There are hundreds of colleges, universities and trade schools to choose from once you decide to begin your secondary education. Majors, degrees and locations are among the important aspects to your school decision, but one should also consider and understand a school’s accreditation (or lack thereof) as a factor before enrolling. So what is it accreditation and how can it effect your future?

What is accreditation?

Educational accreditation is an extensive research-based quality assurance process that evaluates a school and all of its parts from stakeholders to curriculum to make sure it is meeting the needs of its students. The accreditation program was developed more than 100 years ago when it was decided that education needed to be held to certain standards and coordination between secondary and post-secondary educational institutions. The accreditation process finds the weaker parts of an institution and works with the school leadership to make it a strength thus providing a better education for the students. The sole goal of accreditation is to increase the standards of education.

Why is accreditation important?

Accreditation is important for many reasons if not for the sole reason that you know you are getting quality education by attending an accredited school that adheres to academic standards. Transfer credits are only accepted by certain accreditations. For example, a regionally accredited school rarely allows you to transfer credits from a nationally accredited or unaccredited school. Keep in mind each institution is entitled to their own policies and procedures.

Federal Aid is also a major factor when deciding to attend an accredited school. Accredited school attendees have greater access to financial aid.

What are the different types of accreditation?

Specialized Accreditation - Specialized departments, programs and schools within a university are, for the most part, given specialized accreditation rather than the whole institution. Some professions require that you graduate from an accredited department so make sure to research whether or not your chosen career is one of these before enrolling.

Institutional Accreditation
– This accreditation process can be very extensive as it applies to the entire institution: administration, student services, curriculum, faculty, academic quality, finances and other higher education services. Both national and regional accreditation agencies can grant institutional accreditation.

National Accreditation 
- Career or specific field of study focused institutions such as vocational colleges and institutions (i.e.graphic design or biblical colleges) are evaluated by national accreditation agencies.

Regional Accreditation
– regional accreditation can only be given by the regional accreditation agency in charge of that geographical area. Most agencies only evaluate institutions that provide a liberal arts curriculum and prepare students for an advanced degree.

There are several accrediting bodies throughout the US, and there can be different accreditation requirements and administrations for different types of schools.  Below you will find a handful of various accrediting bodies as examples:

  • Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Higher Education)
    Accredits schools in Delaware, District of British Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (National)
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (The Higher Learning Commission)
    Accredits schools in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Navajo Nation, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
  • American Culinary Federation (National, specific to Culinary training programs and degrees)
  • Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (National, focused specifically on Allied Health career training and degrees)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities)
    Accredits schools in California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

There are many differences and similarities between national and regional accreditation. The largest difference comes in the geographical area and which school type that each will evaluate. Regional agencies focus on specific parts of the U.S. and national agencies span the whole U.S. and even some countries outside of the U.S.

National accreditation agencies started as an agency to evaluate common themed schools or schools that hadn’t yet been founded as universities or colleges while the regional agencies took care of their areas and schools traditional colleges.

In many cases, regional accreditation is viewed as the stronger, and therefore, the preferred format.  One important factor to keep in mind that is nationally accredited schools often accept transfer credits from regionally accredited schools.  However, regionally accredited schools do not always accept transfer credits from nationally accredited schools.  Luckily, regional accreditation is quite common and is highly sought after, so the number of schools who do not have regional accreditation is shrinking.

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