National, Regional and Online Accreditation
What is the Difference?
What are regionally accredited colleges? What are nationally accredited colleges? Accreditation is not a cut and dry issue for students of online colleges or traditional brick and mortar institutions. The growth of online colleges and students seeking degrees online has led to an increasing need to understand national, regional and online accreditation, what it means and how it affects students.
Primarily, accreditation is vital to the approval and acceptance of a student's credentials. A graduate student with a Master's degree from an unaccredited institution may have their credentials questioned by potential employers. If accreditation itself were the only issue, it would be simple to say choose only institutions of higher learning that are accredited. However, accreditation comes in several formats:
Using unaccredited credentials can be seen by potential employers and others as fraudulent, and in some states, it can even be against the law. It is not enough just to decide to select only among accredited institutions, as accreditation in the United States is an extremely complex issue.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a system of standards that judge the value of courses, course material, instruction and experience. The only valid organizations that may accredit schools within the United States are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If a question about accreditation arises, verifying the accrediting source with the U.S. Dept. of Education can save students time and grief with regard to fraudulent credentials.
This validity of accreditation is important for transfer students who wish to attend college or university elsewhere. If a previous school was unaccredited, course credit hours may not transfer or be applicable to a future degree. Accreditation matters, so it is important to understand the different types of accreditation.
Different Types of Accreditation
National accreditation agencies provide accreditation to schools across the United States and in some cases, those outside of it as well. Regional accreditation is organized by regional areas of the U.S. For example, a college that is NEASC accredited is accredited by the regional New England Association of Schools and Colleges. This accrediting body may only accredit schools in Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
Specialized accreditation is focused on specific career study such as nursing, medicine or education. A school may be regionally accredited while a degree program receives a specialized or national accreditation.
National and regionally accredited colleges have a number of things in common. Both types of accreditation are voluntary, detailed and very lengthy. The review of the education programs, campuses and delivery method are very thorough. Both types of accreditation agencies are not-for-profit and are not run by the government. Nationally and regionally accredited colleges are also able to offer Title IV financial aid assistance through the federal financial aid program.
The most obvious difference between regional, national and specialized (online, medical, dental) accreditation is geography and focus. Specific regional accreditation is available only to the colleges and universities in that region. National accreditation is available to any interested university or college. Specialized accreditation requires the college or university to be of a specific type or to offer a specific program. Accredited online colleges may be NEASC-accredited if their home base is located in one of the six states governed by the NEASC, but also receive online accreditation for being an online university.
Regional accreditation began as a league for local colleges and universities in a certain area. National accreditation actually began as the product of common associations such as the American Medical Association. Accreditation at the most basic level states that the college or university has been evaluated and approved by a non-profit organization.
How to Decide What's Right for You
Regionally accredited online schools are considered preferable to unaccredited online schools. If you are worried about the quality or the standards of an online school, investigate their accreditation and the standards to which the school was held. Another key thing to remember is that nationally accredited schools will accept credits from nationally and regionally accredited colleges and regionally accredited online schools, while regionally accredited schools typically only accept credits from other regionally accredited schools.
Employers typically don't care who accredited the school or your degree program, but enrollment counselors and transcript evaluators do. Those who plan to attend accredited online colleges should verify they are regionally accredited online schools if they plan to attend another school or university after their online.
Accredited Online Master's Degree Program
Master's degree programs may vary their accreditation. If you plan to continue to a PhD or PsyD at a regionally accredited school, you should choose a regionally accredited online master's degree program. Accreditation protects students and potential employers from fraudulent degrees and misrepresentation.
Accredited online schools and traditional brick and mortar institutions protect the integrity of a student's education and the trust that student can place in it. Ultimately, the student must choose the school and the degree program that is the best fit to their education, career and financial needs and goals.