When researching colleges, both online and campus, be sure that the school you choose is worth the time and money you will spend on your education. The first item on your list should be: Is this school accredited by a recognized agency? This is crucial for several reasons:
- Ability to use Federal financial aid or military education benefits toward your tuition
- Potential transferability of credits to another school
- Recognition of degree by another school
- Validity of degree by prospective employers
Accredited schools make their accreditation details easy to find on their websites and other literature. Take a few moments to check for this information, and if you can’t find it, move on to the next school on your list.
What is Accreditation?
Do an Internet search of a college degree or program, and dozens, maybe even hundreds of school names could come up–colleges, universities, trade schools, or other types of post-secondary training. How do you know which schools will provide a quality education that meets your needs?
The U.S. Department of Education is not a centralized authority that exercises control over the quality of post-secondary educational institutions in this country. Though individual states do have some control over the education offered within their borders, for the most part, schools providing higher education are allowed to operate with a lot of independence.
To ensure a basic level of quality, private educational organizations, known as accrediting agencies, have established criteria for quality schools and programs. Accreditors have developed procedures for evaluating schools to make sure they meet these standards.
Accreditation is a voluntary process– no school has to be accredited. When a school requests an evaluation, the accreditor reviews the school’s academic programs, administration and faculty, support services, and other aspects of its operation. If the school meets the established criteria, then it is accredited by that agency. The school is monitored by the agency to make sure that it continues to meet the standards and is reevaluated to be sure that the accreditation status remains valid.
Recognized Accreditation Agencies
So you’ve determined that your school is accredited. Take your research one step further, and make sure that this accreditor is recognized by the Department of Education (DOE) or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The main purpose for DOE accreditor recognition is to make sure that federal financial aid is going toward quality programs and courses. The main goal of CHEA accreditor recognition is to assure and improve academic quality. The DOE and CHEA recognize many of the same agencies and schools, so there will be overlap on both lists. You can check out the list of the accrediting agencies and schools recognized by the DOE through their site.
Types of Accreditation
There are two types of accreditation: institutional, which applies to the school as a whole, and programmatic, or specialized, which applies to programs within the school.
Institutional accreditation agencies are divided between national and regional accreditation. Eight regional accreditation agencies cover six sections of the country and oversee almost 3,000 schools. Regional accrediting agencies have the reputation of upholding high standards of academic rigor and quality. Most regionally accredited schools accept credits earned at other regionally accredited schools but tend not to accept credits earned at nationally accredited schools. Professions that require licensing, such as teaching and accounting, tend to accept degrees only from regionally accredited schools.
National accrediting agencies are not limited to a geographical area. Historically, they have focused on reviewing and approving career, vocational, and trade schools. Though these schools may be more affordable and provide more practical and career-oriented degrees, regionally accredited schools may not transfer credits earned there.
Programmatic accreditation applies to degree areas within an institution, such as law, business, healthcare, psychology, engineering, and education. As professional licensures require that applicants complete specific program content, programmatic accreditation ensures that students in accredited programs have met these requirements. In general, regionally accredited schools will be the ones that also have programmatic accreditations.
Once you’ve determined that your institution of choice has the accreditation you prefer, you can be assured that it will provide a quality education. Once again, know before you go!
By Hunter Barrat
Senior Admissions Representative at American Public University