Let’s face it – whether you’re pursuing your college degree online or at a brick and mortar college, it’s not cheap to put yourself through school. The fees are a different story, with more and more students haunted by massive student loans costing tens and thousands of dollars that cripple their lives even decades after college. Before taking the next steps in choosing the right college according to your budget and chosen degree, you must consider another very important factor – the school’s accreditation status.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a set standard in which colleges or universities are graded. You can think of it as a form of quality control against standards backed by research and evaluated by experts in different educational fields. Colleges, universities, and even online secondary and postsecondary programs strive to achieve accreditation through one or sometimes several accreditation groups in order to show that they meet the highest quality standards.
This is specifically done by private accreditation organizations commissioned by local and national government agencies, with the US Department of Education (USDE) being the top governing body among other authorities.
Some examples of certified accreditors, like the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) and Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), undergo a rigorous process and a series of accreditations themselves before they are appointed by the government to evaluate colleges and universities. Once they are recognized by the USDE, they are tasked to carry out a thorough review and assessment of universities and colleges, the types of programs that they offer (if they are up to standard), as well as the type of teaching instruction that they employ.
Accreditation will provide a path for a school to follow that will allow the school to be up to date with the teaching practices set by the accreditation group. The school will have to stay up to date on the accreditation group’s requirements in order to stay accredited.
How are colleges accredited?
Before accreditation, applicant colleges and universities are usually given a set of policies and standards that they must comply with way before representatives come to their schools. These set of policies will be reviewed against existing ones and will be highlighted where changes/improvements are applicable.
It is also determined beforehand what kind of accreditation they will be doing, which may be institutional (focusing on the institution as a whole) or specialized (certain department of the institution subjected to accreditation). Institutional accreditations are usually more hectic because the accreditation has a wider scope and there are more areas to work on.
During accreditation day, a set of assessors and evaluators arrive at the school and review various aspects of the school, including existing policies, state of facilities, institutional achievements, student outputs, and other indicators of the school’s performance over a certain timeframe. Assessors and evaluators are expected to ask the hard questions, not missing a beat in order to mark areas for improvement. This will also be helpful to the school being accredited, as these constructive comments can pave the way for better course offerings and comprehensive programs.
Once it is successful, certification is given to the school, which signifies that it is accredited with the accrediting body. These results will then be published through different channels, as a celebratory and promotional effort which has been earned by the school. Universities and colleges that have been previously accredited are subjected to reevaluation after 5-10 years, depending on the accreditor policies.
Why is accreditation important?
Accreditation of a school is very important for several reasons. You will want to ask if the school is accredited before you sign up and who the accreditation group is. Most schools will have their set of accreditations and accolades posted on their website because they are proud of the accomplishment of achieving that accreditation. Getting accredited is no easy feat – and it’s meant to stay that way, in order to maintain quality education. If the school you’re looking to attend is not accredited, you should probably go somewhere else for your education.
Some of the problems you may run into with a school not having an accreditation would include that if you go to a different school, your credits that you worked so hard for may not transfer to the new school. Some of the religious church-based schools are allowed to make up their own rules on what they teach and thus are not accredited.
Considering a College? Check its accreditation status.
If you want to save yourself from potentially wasting time and resources, it’s better to do a bit of a background check on the schools you’re considering for college. Try to look at their official websites, and look for a list of their accreditation which can be easily seen within the interface.
Scams and shady dealings are prevalent nowadays (especially online), so it pays to be extra careful and be all the more skeptical when considering online colleges. Always do some research, check reviews online, and do it a few more times until you’re assured that they are a legitimate and accredited institution. Only then can you protect yourself from being on the losing end.
If you plan to find a quality job once you are out of your chosen college, most employers will look more positively at your educational background if they know the school upholds certain standards. Most employers are actually particular about the school you graduated from, most especially whether or not they have valid accreditation statuses. Know that you don’t have to be a product of an Ivy League university or pay a premium for quality education, you just have to exercise sound judgment in choosing the right school.
As with anything else, it’s best to just take your time, do some research on the school and their chosen accreditation group. There are fake accreditation groups out there that throw out rubber stamps and fake certificates at any school that’s willing to pay. These shady entities are called accreditation mills, and you should be wary about these things, too.
It is your future, so be sure to make an educated decision. You will thank yourself for it.