When evaluating credentials from the Philippines, one of the main points of confusion can be the Special Order (SO) number. When do we need them? When do we not need them? Why doesn’t this diploma have one? These are all common questions that can be easily answered by understanding the main function of the SO number.
In the Philippines, the government uses SO numbers to regulate and monitor private education. The SO number indicates that the program is approved by the government, and that the school has been given the authority to grant degrees to its students. When a cohort of students from a private education establishment (both secondary and tertiary levels) graduate from their program, the school must then request a SO number from the government. The SO number is then printed on the students’ diplomas and permanent record (Form 137-A). SO numbers generally apply to private secondary, tertiary, and vocational programs.
So is it as easy as public versus private for the SO numbers? Not exactly. As with most education systems, there are some exceptions that we have to take into consideration.
Private elementary schools are exempt from SO numbers. Private secondary schools are also exempt if they are affiliated with a higher education institution (HEI) that has been exempted from SO numbers.
The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) allows some HEIs to be exempt from the SO number requirement. If a private HEI has been accredited at Level II, III, or IV, they can grant degrees without SO numbers. However, accreditation in the Philippines is voluntary, so not all schools choose to go through this process.
CHED has also granted some HEIs an autonomous or deregulated status, which also exempts them from SO numbers. These are institutions that are considered to operate at very high standards and have a long history of excellence in education.
So how we do know which universities fall into these categories? Luckily, the internet is our friend, and most of this information is readily available. CHED regularly publishes a list of autonomous and deregulated HEI’s, which can be found on their website.
We can find the accreditation status of HEIs by looking at the website of the appropriate accreditation agency, which include the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU), the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (PACUCOA), and the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities – Accrediting Agency (ASCCU-AA).
By keeping these guidelines in mind, we can easily demystify the Philippine Special Order number.