Most would define accreditation as a means of identifying if a school, college or university has met a certain level of educational standards, according to the respective accrediting agency. However, it’s important to know how the type or body of accreditation might impact the quality of your education and future career prospects.
Depending on the type of school and the curriculum it offers, accreditation agencies look for different attributes. For instance, a learning institution specializing in fashion design will be subjected to different standards as opposed to an aviation school.
Though, all learning institutions face overarching requirements of accreditation, which forms the foundation of the entire process. As an example, it is a stringent requirement of all accrediting institutions that schools must have a clear and distinct mission statement which aims to better education and serve students to the best of their knowledge. Also, every school must demonstrate that it has the resources to achieve its mission statement, while laying bare some evidence of it being successful.
In addition, practically all schools must comply with impromptu external reviews, to ensure all accreditation standards are being upheld.
Bodies Responsible for Accrediting Schools
This is a very legitimate question you should be asking yourself when looking for a good institution: “What are the agencies responsible for accrediting my school?”
It should be taken into account that it is not up to the US Government to regulate accreditation but rather hand-pick bodies to do the job.
In case you’re enrolled in a distance learning program outside the US, you need to make sure the school you pick is accredited by a CHEA-certified agency – that’s the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. CHEA is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities, and recognizes 60 institutional as well as programmatic accrediting organizations.
What Accreditation Means to You: The Student
If you think accreditation holds little importance to you as a student, there’s good reason to look at it this way: after graduation, once the hunt for work begins, employers will almost always question the credentials of the school you graduated form, and whether it was accredited from a reputable agency.
If your degree is from a university with questionable accreditation, employers will more than likely not consider you as a potential candidate. Furthermore, at any point during your academic stint, if you wish to transfer to another institution, no reputable school is going to accept transfer credits from an unaccredited one.
Why it All Matters
Some students could care less what accreditation is and why it matters so much. To some, all that matters is they’ve learned a thing or two, and gained enough credits to have a degree, which is something to write home about.
Not true; even though some unaccredited programs offer a lot of value in terms of gaining experience and knowledge, not all offerings are equal. Getting a degree from an unaccredited program means:
- You won’t be eligible for federal financial aid
- You can’t transfer credits to another school
- Inability to get the right professional licensure in your chosen discipline
Accreditation from a reputable authority literally means the difference between taking the road to a lucrative career path or being bogged down with debt, not to mention credits that have little to no value.
How to Make Sure You’re Going to an Accredited School
In the US, there are various accrediting agencies for universities, schools and colleges:
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- North Central Association (NCA)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Accreditation coming from these agencies is referred to as institutional accreditation. Some academic programs might require you to attend programs with specialized accreditation – this is typically applicable to specific vocations like law, nursing or engineering. In this particular case, the accrediting agency is a body which is responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of academic programs so as to how well they equip students to comply with professional standards.
It is up to students to know beforehand if their career path requires accreditation by these specialized agencies, before they commit to an academic program.
The US Department of Education is not responsible for accrediting educational institutions, but maintains a database of accredited institutions and recognized accrediting agencies. This is a good place to start digging up information on academic program accreditation. CHEA is one such source of getting reliable information.