So, you’re researching for colleges and keep seeing the word “accreditation.” What is college accreditation and its benefits? In short, accreditation is a quality control method for higher education institutions. Accreditation is an in-depth evaluation to judge the caliber of the college classes. It’s conducted by unbiased, third-party agencies to ensure honest reviews of the learning environment. Getting accredited is an important step for universities to prove their ability to train students well. The National Center for Education Statistics has counted 4,583 accredited, degree-granting colleges in America. Prospective students should use accreditation as a main factor when picking from all these schools. Accreditation can give you peace of mind that your tuition investment will pay off with excellent education. Choosing accredited colleges also guarantees that you’ll qualify for scholarships and grants now then jobs and certification exams later. In this article, we’ll introduce the various types of accreditation to look for.
What the Accreditation Process Involves
Most types of accreditations for colleges work the same way. First, the institution or degree program submits an application to an accrediting agency. These applications include a slew of questions about the school’s academics, finances, student outcomes, and faculty credentials. Second, the accreditor appoints a qualified team to review the college’s performance. An on-site campus visit is traditionally required to evaluate the institution. Accrediting agency staff spend several months gathering data to determine compliance with their set quality standards. If satisfactory, the colleges are awarded candidacy status like probation. During this two-year timeframe, newly accredited members undergo frequent checks and fix any problems. Once accredited, institutions and problems are consistently reviewed every 5-10 years. What is the purpose of accreditation in higher education? It mostly holds institutions accountable. Accreditation makes colleges continually improve to keep the coveted endorsement and attract pupils.
How to Determine a College’s Accreditation Status
Never take a school’s word on accreditation. Untrustworthy colleges might advertise fake accreditations on their website to lure you. Thus, do your homework and check accreditation for yourself. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a helpful database to search approval status. Simply type the college name in to find up-to-date, reliable information. You can also conduct an advanced search for colleges in your state or desired major. There’s even a drop-down menu to select regional, national, or programmatic accreditations you seek. When you click a college’s name, a profile will appear with all accreditation details. Look at the review dates to make certain the college’s accreditation hasn’t expired or been removed. Schools with probationary status are still accredited, but you should dig further to learn what’s wrong. Contact the college’s Office of Academic Affairs with any questions.
Different U.S. Regional Accrediting Agencies
What type of accreditation is best? The answer is definitely regional accreditation. The United States has six regional agencies that provide institutional accreditation to certify the merits of whole colleges. This accreditation type is based on the geographic location of the main campus. Regional accreditations will include any online offerings and extension centers, even out of state, though. About 85 percent of public and private, whether for-profit or non-profit, universities are regionally accredited. Regional accreditation is deemed superior because it’s the most widely transferrable. Regionally accredited credits will usually count toward your degree at any school. Regional accreditation is also sometimes required for scholarship, certification, and employer tuition reimbursement programs. Here are the six regional accreditation organizations that regularly assess their member institutions.
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education – Since 1887, the MSCHE has accredited degree-granting colleges on the Mid-Atlantic coast as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Philadelphia-based association led by Dr. Elizabeth Sibolski currently reviews 598 affiliate institutions based on seven standards.
- New England Commission on Higher Education – Located in Burlington, Massachusetts, the NECHE is a nonprofit, self-governing association that accredits in six Northeast states plus more than 65 countries. The 135-year agency headed by Mr. Cameron Staples has a roster of 2,000 institutions that comply with nine standards.
- Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association – Overseen by Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley, the HLC-NCA has evaluated post-secondary institutions in 19 Midwest states from Arizona to Ohio since 1895. The Chicago-based agency utilizes five major criterion for accrediting 1,346 universities across the Heartland.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Celebrating its 125th year, the SACS has the Commission on Colleges and Council on Accreditation & School Improvement to review over 13,000 PreK-16 institutions. The Decatur-based agency managed by Dr. Belle Wheelan covers an expansive 11-state region in the Southeast.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Headquartered in Alameda, California, the WASC Senior College and University Commission has a six-year cycle for accrediting 221 members. The youngest regional agency formed in 1962 is administered by Ms. Jamienne Studley and active in nine Asian-Pacific territories.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities – Chaired by Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy with a 26-member Board of Commissioners, the NWCCU is the last recognized regional body in charge of 163 members. The Redmond-based nonprofit has more than 100 years of experience accrediting colleges only in the Pacific Northwest.
Types of National Accreditation Associations
National accreditation is the other institution-wide approval given by organizations across the United States. Approximately 15 percent of today’s colleges are nationally accredited. Most are online universities, religious institutes, and career-focused trade schools. The majority follow a for-profit model, which means the primary goal is making money. Nationally accredited institutions are generally easier to get into with lax admissions. One major regional vs national accreditation difference is their credit transferability. Nationally accredited credits are usually only accepted by other colleges with national accreditation, not regional. That’s partly because nationally accredited universities have less faculty-led liberal arts courses and more self-paced vocational classes. National accreditation isn’t ideal, but it’s better than no accreditation at all. National accreditation schools are still reviewed every three to five years to check for quality standard compliance. Here are some of the most popular national accreditation agencies.
- Distance Education Accreditation Commission – Founded in 1926, the DEAC is a non-profit District of Columbia agency led by Dr. Leah Matthews that utilizes a detailed rubric to accredit more than 90 online high schools and colleges in 21 states. It only reviews education programs where 51 percent or more of courses are Web-based.
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools – Based in Forest, Virginia, the TRACS is a national, faith-based agency opened in 1979 and approved under President George H.W. Bush. Dr. Timothy Eaton currently oversees the five-year accreditation process for 85 Bible schools and theological seminaries.
- Association for Biblical Higher Education – Similarly, the ABHE is a Christ-centered nonprofit that evaluates 279 member institutions from Puerto Rico to Hawaii with more than 50,000 learners combined and 72 percent average retention. The Orlando-based agency managed by Dr. Ralph Enlow Jr. adopted 11 standards in 2014.
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges – Directed by Dr. Michale McComis, the ACCSC is a national agency worth an estimated $7.29 million that accredits 789 trade schools in 57 states and territories. The Arlington-based organization has grown since 1965 to review programs serving a quarter million students.
- Association of Theological Schools – Dedicated to four core values, the ATS is perhaps the best national accrediting commission that certifies more than 270 North America seminaries with nearly 7,500 faculty total. The Pittsburgh-based Board overseen by Dr. Brian Blount reviews ministry degrees like the Master of Divinity.
Kinds of Program-Based Accreditations Available
Lastly, there’s programmatic accreditation to measure the academic quality of specific degrees. Faculty in college departments pursue these major-based approvals on their own. It’s often called professional accreditation because it focuses on one career field. These single-purpose accreditations make sure students develop unique occupational skills. For example, one agency might determine whether a school’s curricula adequately prepares interior designers. Choosing colleges with program-based accreditation can increase your likelihood of success in that industry. Many certification programs from medical to business careers require graduating from a professionally accredited school. Programmatic accreditation gives extra weight to your diploma during your job hunt. It’s also less likely you’ll need to retake foundational courses if entering graduate school. Here are a few sample program-based approvals.
- Council on Social Work Education – Governed by Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, the CSWE is an Alexandria-based nonprofit with an Office of Accreditation to certify the quality of 849 bachelor’s and master’s programs in 23 concentrations. The CHEA-recognized body launched in 1952 ensures degrees aptly train licensed social workers.
- Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology – Created in May 1932, the ABET is a four-branch agency in Baltimore that has approved over 4,000 STEM programs at 926 colleges across 36 nations. Dr. Michael K.J. Milligan directs 2,200 experts who run the seven-year accreditation of scientific and computing majors.
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – Located on Washington’s 19th Street NW, the CAEP is a new programmatic accreditor established in August 2013 to evaluate teacher training schools. The agency led by Dr. Christopher Koch enforces 10 standards for producing PreK-12 educators at more than 850 colleges in 22 countries.
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business – Considered the “Gold Standard,” the AACSB is an elite global organization that accredits management education at 874 non-profit universities. The Tampa-based agency founded in 1916 has 90 employees and 1,700 members that serve nearly 3 million business majors.
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education – Celebrating its 20th year, the CCNE is a healthcare accreditor that reviews nearly 600 institutions with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The Washington D.C. group administered by Dr. Deborah Trautman aims to better train registered nurses for the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education – Chaired by Dr. Lori Duke, the ACPE is a Chicago-based nonprofit that has grown since 1932 to accredit more than 300 Doctor of Pharmacy programs across eight countries. It has also provided nearly 200,000 CPE units to Certified Educator members who teach drug science courses.
We’ve only scratched the surface with these six program-based accreditations. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation recognizes more than 50 programmatic accreditation types. For instance, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) certifies top-notch media schools. The American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) approves first-rate colleges for the building trades. The American Psychological Association (APA) reviews doctoral and residency programs for mental health practitioners. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) finds the best degrees for dentists and hygienists to promote oral health. The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) covers programs from the associate to the master’s level for emergency first responders. The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) determines which performing arts colleges will be music to your ears. The American Bar Association (ABA) also helps produce licensed attorneys.
Dangers of Choosing an Unaccredited School
What is the purpose of college accreditation? Ultimately, accreditation is designed to protect students’ best interests. Accreditation signals to freshmen and transfers that the curricula will be high-quality. Lack of accreditation warns prospective applicants that the education may be poor. Unaccredited colleges aren’t reviewed regularly, which means they can get away with bad practices. Non-accredited universities are often guilty of fraud schemes that scam students for tuition. These are called diploma mills because they fabricate fake degrees to trick learners. Their courses have substandard content and are frequently taught by untrained faculty. Attending a non-accredited school is a waste of time, effort, and money because employers won’t consider the diploma legitimate. Unaccredited programs can seriously hurt your credibility, cripple your job prospects, and send you to the unemployment line.
Non-accredited schools award meaningless credits that won’t transfer either. Most higher learning institutions only accept credits graded C- or better at regionally accredited colleges. Some make exceptions for distance learning programs with national accreditation. None let graduates of unaccredited colleges use their previously earned credits. That’s because the low-quality courses don’t meet nearly the same performance standards. It’s virtually impossible to transfer unaccredited associate credits for a bachelor’s. Graduate schools will likely refuse non-accredited bachelor’s degrees too. Even worse, you’d need to pay for the useless credits on your own. Federal and state financial aid programs don’t cover colleges without accreditation. Listing a non-accredited school on the FAFSA application leads to rejection. Colleges that don’t earn voluntary accreditation are risky red flags to avoid.
Overall, accreditation is an assessment process that determines whether colleges are fit to teach. Regional, national, and program-based accreditations tell new students that they’re credible and competent. Trusted third parties issue accreditations independently after a long, in-depth review. Accredited colleges have passed the tests and exceeded the quality standards. What does it mean to be an accredited college? It means the university has proven its academic authority and commitment to superior teaching. It also means the accredited school will keep creating improvement plans to enhance student experiences. Looking for accreditation should be part of any college search. Accreditation can determine whether your two or more years of higher education are valuable or worthless.
Other Articles of Interest:
The 50 Most Affordable Colleges with the Best Return
25 Cheapest Online Schools for Out-of-State Students (Master’s)
The 30 Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s-Granting Historically Black Colleges/Universities
25 Most Affordable Bachelor’s-Granting Historically Black Colleges/Universities
40 Best Affordable One-Year Accelerated Master’s Degree Programs
The 20 Most Affordable Online Colleges
20 Tuition-Free Colleges
The 20 Most Affordable Online Colleges
The 50 Best Affordable Business Schools