What Does a College's Accreditation Mean?
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.
Primarily, accreditation is vital to the approval and acceptance of a student's credentials. For example, a graduate student with a Master's Degree from an unaccredited institution may have their credentials questioned by potential employers.
Here's why it's important:
- Using unaccredited credentials can be seen as fraudulent by potential employers, and in some states, it can even be against the law.
- 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.
If accreditation itself were the only issue, it would be simple to say you should choose only institutions of higher learning that are accredited. However, accreditation comes in several formats, including national, regional and specialized.
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 NECHE accredited is accredited by the regional New England Commission of Higher Education. 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.
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. 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.