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? And perhaps most importantly, how can you make sure that the courses you take and the credits you earn can count for something? Let’s take a closer look to answer some questions.
What Does Accreditation Mean?
Accreditation refers to when an institution of higher education has met certain standards. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”
Why Does Accreditation Matter?
Accreditation is a bit like an insurance policy that protects the value of your education. It signifies that your chosen institution provides a quality education and meets necessary academic standards. You don’t want to invest a lot of money to earn a degree that isn’t accredited by the appropriate organizations. That degree — and all the hard work you did to earn it — might not be recognized or valued as highly by prospective employers, since the institution wasn’t evaluated and accredited. If a school isn’t accredited, there may be some other challenges or consequences a student may face. Unaccredited higher education institutions cannot receive federal or state funding, and students attending these schools are ineligible to receive federal or student financial aid as well as private scholarships.
How Do Colleges Receive Accreditation?
Colleges receive accreditation from a number of different accrediting bodies that evaluate an institution and the education they provide. The U.S. Department of Education notes it “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.” In other words, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) does not provide accreditation for schools directly, but it recognizes other organizations that provide these accreditations. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also recognizes accrediting agencies. Despite the importance of accreditation for higher education institutions, receiving accreditation is actually a voluntary process. An individual school will seek accreditation from a certain accrediting body. The process itself may look different depending on the accrediting body involved, but the entire process usually takes 1-2 years. Schools seeking accreditation must identify and satisfy all eligibility requirements for a certain credential, submit paperwork and documentation, and undergo an evaluation before a decision is made. There are lots of different USDE-approved accrediting agencies. Some are national, some are regional, and others only accredit specific types of schools.
National accreditation is a reliable marker of a college’s quality, and it’s usually received by colleges that are for-profit or offer career, vocational, or technical education programs. National accreditation bodies with nationwide reach include:
- 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 accreditation is also a reliable marker of a college’s quality, and most employers tend to prefer regional accreditation since it’s typically seen as more rigorous. Regional agencies are overseen by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Regional accrediting bodies include but are not limited to:
- 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 You Know if a College is Accredited?
Colleges and universities list their regional and national accreditation status on their websites. You can then cross check this information you find on the websites for the relevant accrediting agencies as well as the sites for the U.S. Department of Education.
How Do You Know if an Online Course is Accredited?
Online institutions are not necessarily subject to the same accreditation standards. Only colleges and universities that confer degrees can be accredited and are subject to accreditation standards. Because of that, most online college course providers are not accredited, but they’re recognized in other ways. StraighterLine, for example, is not accredited because we do not offer full degree programs or confer degrees. We do, however, provide high-quality online classes that earn credits that can easily be transferred to colleges within our partner network. All of the schools in our network have received regional accreditation. All StraighterLine courses have also received ACE Credit recommendations to earn college credit. ACE Credit recommendations come from the American Council on Education (ACE) and help students earn academic credit for courses and examinations taken outside traditional degree programs. ACE has reviewed and recommended all StraighterLine courses for college credit. To date, over 2,000 colleges and universities have accepted StraighterLine courses for credit. Before enrolling in online courses, be sure to ask about the procedures that you must follow if you want to transfer credits to other institutions. And if you have questions about StraighterLine regarding accreditation, earning ACE Credit, or transferring courses to your school, call the StraighterLine enrollment team (877) 787-8375. We are here to help!
Do Colleges Ever Lose Accreditation?
Colleges can lose their accreditation. 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.
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