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University Accreditation: Just the Facts

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Many students use accreditation status as a way to validate the caliber of a prospective university. However, just as many are unclear about what accreditation actually means for them as a student.

Terry Grant, director of enrollment management at the online American Public University System (APUS), explains that accreditation is a voluntary process in which every aspect of a university is analyzed by an outside review body — academics, administration, support services, operations and more.

“Regional or national accreditation ensures that a school delivers and can continue to deliver what it promises,” she says. “Accreditation is an important differentiator — and an indicator of a commitment to quality and improvement on all fronts.”

Grant answers the questions she and her admissions team are most often asked:

What is accreditation?

Think of accreditation as a thorough review process. A third party, the accrediting body, works cooperatively with a college or university to examine its policies, practices, and procedures for quality assurance and improvement. Its policies are measured against a set of well-established guidelines for institutions of higher education. The accrediting body verifies that the institution meets those standards — and can continue to meet the standards.

Are there different types of accreditation?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognize three types of accreditation:

  • National
  • Regional
  • Specialized

National accrediting bodies operate throughout the country and review entire institutions. For example, the Distance Education and Training Council grants national accreditation. Nationally accredited schools may be degree-granting or non-degree granting, for profit or nonprofit, single purpose, or faith based. APUS is nationally accredited.

Regional accrediting bodies operate in six different regions of the country. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), for example, accredits only schools based in the New England region. Regionally accredited schools may be degree-granting or non-degree granting, for profit or nonprofit, single purpose or faith based. APUS is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Specialized accrediting organizations operate throughout the country, but review individual programs or single purpose institutions. The American Psychological Association, Committee on Accreditation, for example, reviews psychology programs, but not the institutions that offer them.

The Foundation of Higher Education recently granted APUS’s emergency and disaster management program its specialty accreditation. APUS is the first online university to receive this accreditation. The emergency and disaster management program is available at member institution American Public University.

Students can verify whether an institution has earned national, regional or specialized accreditation through the accrediting body’s web site or through the CHEA web site.

Does accreditation guarantee transfer of credit?

No. Accreditation status may impact transfer of credits, but no type of accreditation guarantees transfer of credit from one institution to another. Each institution sets its own policies regarding transfer credit. The reason is that colleges and universities each have distinct missions, and each sets its own curriculum and desired learning outcomes. Courses taken at one institution may not fit the program at a second institution. If you are planning to change schools, you should always ask about the receiving school’s transfer credit policy.

Accreditation also does not guarantee that one university’s degree will be accepted by another school toward a more advanced degree program or recognized by a future employer. As with transfer credit, check with the school or employer.

What do the terms “full accreditation” and “fully accredited” mean?

There is no such thing as “full accreditation.” Institutions are either accredited or not accredited.

What if I am considering a university that is not accredited? What kinds of issues should I be aware of?

Students considering colleges and universities that are not accredited by bodies recognized by CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education may have issues with transfer of credit and acceptance of the degree by other institutions and maybe even prospective employers.

And, just as there are institutions that are not accredited, there are accrediting bodies that are not recognized by CHEA and the U.S. Department of Education. When researching colleges, students should always verify the institution’s accreditation status and the legitimacy of the accrediting body itself.

If you have other questions regarding accreditation, contact Terry Grant, American Public University System’s director of enrollment management, at info@apus.edu.

By Online Learning Tips Staff

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