Most colleges claim to be accredited by state, regional, or national governing bodies. But what does that mean? And what is the difference between regional vs. national accreditation? It’s pretty confusing, but let’s answer some questions.
What is college accreditation?
The U.S. Department of Education states, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”
Why does college accreditation matter?
There is not much point in investing a lot of money to earn a degree from a school that is not accredited by appropriate agencies. Example: If you received training to be a nursing assistant from an unaccredited school, that credential isn’t valued as highly as a certificate from an accredited school would be when you apply for jobs.
What’s the difference between regional and national accreditation?
This gets a bit complicated, but stick with us. The U.S. Department of Education says that: “The U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to accredit private or public elementary or secondary schools, and the Department does not recognize accrediting bodies for the accreditation of private or public elementary and secondary schools. However, the U.S. Department of Education does recognize accrediting bodies for the accreditation of institutions of higher (postsecondary) education.”
Here’s a translation: The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t accredit schools directly. It does, however, recognize organizations that provide accreditation to schools.
But it gets even more complicated, because there are lots of different USDE-approved accrediting agencies. Some are regional, while others accredit specific types of schools. Here are two lists, with links for more information.
Accreditation bodies with nationwide reach . . .
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools –
- Council on Occupational Education
- Distance Education and Training Council
Regional college accrediting bodies (partial list) . . .
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT)
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (AZ, MI, MN, MO, NE, NM, ND, OH, OK, SD, WV, WI, WY)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (AL, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA)
How do I find out if an institution is accredited by appropriate agencies?
Colleges and universities list their regional and national accreditation status on their Websites. If you have any doubts, contact the accrediting agencies listed above, others that are listed on the college’s website, or a state department of education.
Are online institutions subject to the same accreditation standards as other institutions?
Not necessarily – and here the issue of accreditation gets a little confusing. StraighterLine provides high-quality online classes that earn credits that can be transferred to colleges. However StraighterLine itself is not accredited, because accreditors will not review individual courses, only full degree programs.
Are certification and college accreditation the same thing?
No. College accreditation pertains to the school. Certification means that you have passed an exam or met other requirements that certify you to practice a trade or profession. Certification testing is usually overseen by state or regional agencies. Example: To become a licensed massage therapist in Missouri, you have to meet the requirements of the Missouri State Board of Therapeutic Massage.
Do colleges ever lose their accreditation?
Yes, they do. If that happens to your school, it can spell bad news for your work and career. That’s why it pays to check with all applicable accrediting agencies to verify the status of any school you are considering.