Going to college or university is one of the most expensive and time-consuming endeavors people take on in their life. With all the effort and money schools and students invest in higher learning, how do people know that that final degree has any value and will be accepted?
That’s why accreditation comes into play. Accreditation is what gives companies, organizations, institutions, and the student themself faith that the degree obtained means the person has the requisite skills for that particular field.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand what accreditation is and what it means for you. Let’s get started.
We can look to Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools for a definition of “accreditation.”
They say, “[It’s] a voluntary activity initiated by the institution. It requires a rigorous self-evaluation and an independent, objective peer appraisal of the overall educational quality. Accreditation emphasizes quality assurance and a commitment to continuous quality enhancement.”
In short, accreditation is simply quality control. It ensures the university, school, institution, program, or college meets and maintains the strict guidelines as laid out by the accrediting entity. Normally, these are private, nongovernment agencies tasked with overseeing the process.
However, these agencies are given their authority through the United States Department of Education (USDE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). But keep in mind that there are fake and fraudulent accrediting institutions that give out accreditations to equally fraudulent schools and the like. These are typically private or online schools.
To avoid falling victim to one of these frauds, be sure to check if the USDE or CHEA approves of your school’s accrediting agencies.
There’s nothing that stipulates a college needs accreditation before it can open and accept students. Remember, it’s on you to do your own research and make sure the place you are attending is giving out certified degrees.
Accreditation does many things aside from ensuring the school or educational program maintains the strict standards laid out by the agency. For one, accreditation helps colleges and universities secure federal and state funding. It also gives the wider community faith and confidence in the private sector.
Additionally, it makes things like moving your acquired credits to another school much easier. Furthermore, it holds the institution accountable and keeps them on their toes to keep quality high so they can compete with other places. A school with all its duck in a row will stand out compared to one that keeps failing the accreditation process.
In general, there are three types of organizations or agencies responsible for handing out accreditation across the United States and the world. They are–
Let’s look at each of these a little closer.
As the name implies, regional accreditation agencies are tasked with reviewing and assessing educational institutions based on the region they are in. Here are the regional accreditation agencies in the United States:
The agencies were grassroots grown by local and traditional colleges and universities from a need in their area. Now, these agencies are responsible for accrediting nearly all postsecondary educational institutions nationwide.
But you keep this in mind. These organizations accredit the school as a whole. That does not speak to the quality or level of the individual programs themselves. You still to research to make sure they will be teaching you the skills and knowledge you need.
National accreditation agencies work the same as the regional ones, except they give out accreditation nationwide. They also work to give credit to those institutions that didn’t have their roots as a college or university.
These can be faith-based or career-based agencies to give accreditation to either private religious schools, trade schools, or vocational training institutions.
A few national accreditation agencies include:
Finally, there are professional and specialized accreditation agencies. These put their focus on the individual programs, majors, or departments at a particular college or university. These typically fall under areas like engineering, law, medical, and the like.
If a particular field requires a license per state/federal law, then they may stipulate you have to receive your education and certification under one of these accreditation agencies. If you’re considering taking the career journey down one of these professional lanes, then it’s imperative you know exactly what you need to become fully licensed.
Luckily, the USDE has us covered here. They created a database that can be searched online to see which school has received accreditation from one of their approved agencies. Remember, it’s your responsibility as a student to do your due diligence and research to ensure you’re attending somewhere that’s quality and will give you what you’re looking for.
Whether you’re thinking about enrolling or already are, one of the most critical aspects when it comes to picking a school or college is making sure it has proper accreditation. Remember, it’s how future employers will determine the value of your degree.
It’s also important should you decide you want to switch schools and transfer those credits you’ve already accrued. Having that third-party accreditation gives your school and your degree the credit it deserves.
Finally, it helps protect you from scams and losing money on fraudulent schools. Remember, these can be online or in-person schools too.
Now that you understand what accreditation is important and what it means for you, go out there and achieve your goals!