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Online Degrees & Accreditation

Colleges, universities, and other post-secondary education programs undergo voluntary accreditation to prove that they adhere to acceptable levels of quality and standards. It’s not hard to find out if your school is accredited, but it’s crucial that the school and program you choose to attend has the accepted and standard accreditation, including online programs.

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Understanding accreditation is critically important when looking for an online program. A school’s accreditation not only helps ensure the quality of the education you receive, it’s also vital if you need to secure student financial aid. Students who fail to attend an accredited school cannot take advantage of federal financial aid, let alone graduate from an institution with a good reputation.

Taking time to understand accreditation details is key to finding the best online program for your educational and career needs. Whether you’re researching options for your first degree or want to pursue an advanced education, accreditation remains important at every academic level.

In addition to educating readers on the various types of accreditation and how each applies to different schools, you can also learn about common warning signs, get to know the entities that oversee accrediting agencies, and see what our expert has to say on the matter.

Types of Accreditation

Understanding different types of accreditation can help you make an educated decision about both the school and program you choose to attend. When starting your educational journey, it’s worth understanding how accreditation works. While the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t directly accredit schools, it does provide oversight for accrediting agencies. Accreditation exists in several different forms, each of which we will explore in the following sections. Depending on the programs and degree levels available, a school may hold more than one type of accreditation. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about this important process.

The Function of Accrediting Agencies

Whether regional, national, or programmatic, accrediting agencies fill a specific role in school accreditation. These non-governmental organizations set the standards for receiving accreditation, provide peer reviews of individual institutions and programs, and make decisions about whether they meet the requirements or need to make adjustments before reapplying. Individual types of accrediting agencies set unique standards and dictate the type of school or program that applies.

Both the U.S. Department of Education and Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) work with recognized accrediting agencies to ensure standards are achieved and maintained.

Regional Accreditation

When it comes to institution-wide validation, regional accreditation is considered the best type a college can hold. Approximately 85% of universities in the U.S. are currently regionally accredited. The process for receiving this type of accreditation can take years and schools must meet specific benchmarks to maintain their status over time.

Schools Accredited Regionally

Regionally accredited schools tend to be nonprofit or public institutions focused on academics that result in four-year degrees. As the name implies, different regional accreditation agencies operate throughout the country and a school’s accrediting agency will depend on its location.

Why Is Regional Accreditation Important?

Regional accreditation is only given to schools that demonstrate high levels of prestige and academic rigor. Students who attend a college with regional accreditation can easily transfer credits to any other type of institution. Regional accreditation sets strict admissions standards, qualifies for federal student aid, and supports tuition reimbursement plans.

How Does Regional Accreditation Work?

Schools hoping to qualify must reach out to their local regional accrediting body and ask to begin the process. This typically starts with sending large amounts of data on admission procedures, student outcomes, and other information points. Representatives from member-schools then visit the campus to conduct a peer review. Those professionals submit a report to the accrediting agency, highlighting any outstanding issues or requested changes. Once a school meets all of those requirements, it qualifies for accreditation.

Regional Accrediting Organizations

  • Higher Learning Commission (Midwest, Southwest)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Mid-Atlantic)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

National Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 15% of schools in America hold national accreditation. The process for receiving national accreditation typically takes less time than regional accreditation and is generally seen as less desirable than its counterpart.

Schools Accredited Nationally

This type of accreditation typically supports for-profit career and vocational schools more focused on building skills rather than providing academic rigor. Many of these schools have less stringent admissions processes than their regionally accredited counterparts. One reason for attending a nationally accredited school is if you want to study a topic that isn’t easily found at other institutions. For instance, if your interests lie in a specific type of Jewish studies area, finding a school accredited by the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools may support your end goal.

Why Is National Accreditation Important?

National accreditation is important for students looking to study a vocational topic that does not rely on transferring credits to other institutions or employer funding. Failing to attend a properly accredited school can also result in an inability to seek licensure/certification or qualify for jobs.

How Does National Accreditation Work?

While regional accreditation decisions are based on reviews provided regionally, national accreditation makes decisions based on how similar institutions (e.g., career, technical, vocational, religion-specific) compare to each other across the country and if each upholds similar standards. In the majority of cases, regional accreditation is the better option. The exception to this rule applies if studying a niche topic not available elsewhere.

National Accrediting Organizations

  • Distance Education & Training Council
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Association for Biblical Higher Education
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission
  • National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences

Programmatic and Specialized Accreditation

National and regional accreditation both focus on institutions as a whole while programmatic and specialized accrediting agencies look at individual degree programs and departments. Programmatic accreditation covers many different disciplines and academic areas, making it important that you know whether your area of study has a programmatic accrediting body and what it is called.

Accreditation for Specialized Schools and Programs

Many different types of programs and departments seek this type of accreditation, especially if it’s widely available in the discipline. For schools, earning various types of programmatic accreditation shows that both the institution and the degree meets standards and adequately prepares learners for the future. When looking at programmatic accrediting agencies, you will notice many exist for degrees focused on healthcare, education, and the arts, but can also be found in areas of business and commerce.

Why Is Programmatic Accreditation Important?

Programmatic accreditation tells funders, other schools, licensing boards, and potential employers that you completed a program of study that meets industry standards. It can set you apart from other graduates and signal a level of dedication to your field.

How Does Programmatic Accreditation Work?

Requirements for receiving programmatic accreditation are set by individual accrediting bodies. Each has unique processes and review methods, so take time to understand these early in your school search. Some accreditors, as is the case with the American Psychological Association, may only accredit certain degree levels. It’s important that you grasp the i