Whether looking into college online or offline, accreditation is arguably one of the most important factors in ensuring the integrity and value of your degree. So, what is accreditation exactly and why does it remain a source of concern and controversy for so many students, universities, and even future employers?
Defining What is Accreditation
In short, accreditation represents the certification process that colleges undergo to prove their legitimacy as an institution, ensuring that their faculty, student services, curriculum, and educational resources meet standards of academic quality, improvement, and accountability.
Accreditation is regulated by a variety of agencies. Colleges can be accredited either nationally or regionally. From trade schools to community colleges and beyond, all credible colleges will have some form of accreditation.
The Controversy of Accreditation
The controversy surrounding accreditation arises when schools allude to or present themselves as being accredited, yet are not actually accredited by a legitimate regulatory body. This has been an issue in the past with some colleges. Fortunately, transparency regarding accreditation has become the standard for schools and the norm checkpoint for students looking to gain a competitive, legitimate, and valuable education.
All prospective students should be aware of their potential school’s accreditation. For example, students should consider whether or not some accreditors are perceived as more prestigious than others and understand what happens when a school loses its accreditation.
By understanding the ins and outs of college accreditation, you can determine whether or not a college meets your needs and can have peace of mind as you pursue your degree.
Why College Accreditation Matters
Colleges are accredited based on their ability to meet the needs of their students, however, what does that actually mean?
Regulating bodies look at colleges based on a number of factors to determine accreditation, including:
- Curriculum requirements for graduation, ensuring that a school’s course load has enough rigor to provide students with a competitive education
- Graduation rates, including percentage of graduating freshmen
- Job placement rates to ensure that students leaving the institution are actually finding and securing employment as a result of getting a degree
These factors work to hold colleges accountable in regards to the education and services they provide to students, ultimately providing the tools for their students to succeed. Therefore, students should strive to attend schools that are accredited by a reputable regulating body, especially considering the following components:
An accredited college has the necessary staff and resources to meet the needs of all students. For example, students attending an online university will need reliable distance learning options, technology, and a staff capable of providing such an education.
The more prestigious an institution and its accreditation, the more attractive your degree may look in the eyes of a potential employer.
Accreditation may determine whether or not students qualify for financial aid from federal loan programs.
While the accreditation of a school does not guarantee job opportunities or salary upon graduation, it does ensure that the quality of your education meets the minimum requirements set by national accrediting bodies. Therefore, the accreditation of your current or potential college directly impacts your education both before and after graduation.
Types of Accreditation
As noted, there are a variety of accrediting bodies in the United States, covering various colleges, both online and offline. The specifics of accreditation vary from college to college, whether you’re attending a brick-and-mortar university, an online university, or a trade school.
National vs. Regional Accreditation
What are the differences between national and regional accreditation?
In many cases, regionally accredited colleges are academic, non-profit educational institutions, while most nationally accredited schools are for-profit and are more oriented toward vocational or technical programs. National institutions tend to have less stringent standards, which sometimes becomes an issue for students attempting to transfer to a regionally accredited college. Students finding themselves transferring or thinking about doing so should keep this in mind.
Community College Accreditation
In almost all cases, community colleges fall under the umbrella of regional accreditation. For example, many community colleges offer “direct connect” options, which allow students to easily transfer to a state university after receiving a two-year associate’s degree. Such programs are possible as credit is easily transferred from one college to the next within the accredited region.
According to the US Department of Education, the Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accredited agencies, which determine the quality of education and training provided by universities. Simply put, accreditation represents both a process and a status for universities to hold them accountable for their promises.
Online College Accreditation
Online colleges are accredited in the same way as brick-and-mortar schools. While many online universities may be nationally accredited, some online degree programs may be accredited regionally if they represent the virtual branch of a traditional university.
For example, the University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and both online and traditional degrees are honored by that accreditation.
Technical School Accreditation
Career colleges and technical schools may be both accredited and licensed. In the case of trade schools, licensure may be equally important as accreditation for prospective students. In most cases, licensure is handled at the state level. Especially in the case of private vocational schools, prospective students should ensure that their institution has proof of accreditation or licensure before attending.
Accreditation varies from school to school, however, it is paramount that students choose a properly accredited college to ensure they’re getting the education that they pay for, regardless of their school.
How Can I Tell if a College is Accredited?
Understanding whether or not your potential school is accredited is rather straightforward, however, you still need to know exactly what to look for and ask the right questions.
Accreditation information should be readily available on any credible college’s website. If not, you may need to do some digging online. For example, just about any public university with a Wikipedia page has its accrediting body clearly stated.
If such information is not found so easily, contact a representative from the college by phone or email. Be wary of schools who aren’t forthcoming with their accreditation credentials. You will also want to ensure that your potential college isn’t “accredited” by an accreditation mill.
In the rare event that a college loses its accreditation, students will still be able to continue their degree with respect to the prior accreditation in most cases. In the meantime, colleges have the opportunity to seek out a different accreditor. If you find yourself in this situation or you are unsure about your school’s accreditation status, simply contact the college or their licensure board.
By figuring out whether or not your college is vetted by a national, regional or specialized accrediting body, you can have peace of mind concerning your education and the quality of your degree.
Finding the Perfect Accredited College
In an increasingly competitive economy, students need an equally competitive education in order to stand out from their peers. College Atlas contains detailed information on whether or not a college is accredited. No matter if you’re looking to get your degree online or on-campus, you can rest assured that College Atlas will have the best information available on the school you are looking to attend.