College is an important milestone in every student’s life. While much of what it entails may seem daunting, it is still an exciting journey to define one’s future. For many incoming college students, choosing the right higher institution is a pressing matter.
Some choose between higher learning institutions that offer traditional degree programs and those that allow them the flexibility they need through online classes. Others prefer small colleges to large universities. Some consider whether the school is public or private as it can often affect their tuition costs.
One of the primary benchmarks for a university’s prestige is its accreditation. The institution one chooses to attend must have the credentials that ensure quality education. An accredited school can be a huge boost for future employment.
What is Accreditation?
Higher learning institutions have developed a set of standards that serve to assess the quality of a college or university. The process is called accreditation, assuring that institutions and programs meet the requirements. Once they are assessed and approved, they will get an accreditation status. The assurance can minimize scams like diploma mills and subpar instructional programs.
While the Department of Education determines if the accrediting agency meets the standard, it is not responsible for the whole accreditation process. The process starts with the school’s voluntary request for a formal evaluation from accreditation agencies. They will need to thoroughly prepare to meet the set standards of a particular accreditation organization. Generally, the whole process ensures that the university or college has appropriate faculty, institutional stability, and competent programs.
In the US, there are 19 approved accrediting bodies for colleges and universities. Meanwhile, there are 60 recognized accrediting organizations for programs. These accrediting agencies are evaluated and cleared by either the Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE).
The accreditors can be private, non-governmental organizations in the United States, unlike other countries where government organizations usually carry out accreditation.
Benefits of Accreditation to Educational Institutions
Knowing whether a college, university, or program is accredited can make a world of difference to aspiring students.
For one, those who want to apply and accept federal loans or grants need to find an accredited institution and program for easy access.
It is valuable to employers when an applicant comes from an accredited learning institution because they can be assured of high-quality education and training. An accredited college makes the assistance process easier for those who participate in employee programs that assist employees who wish to earn an advanced degree.
Accreditation is crucial to a learning institution’s existence and continuous operation. Being an accredited university means they can get financial aid from the federal government and the corporate body.
At the state level, most colleges and universities must meet the accreditation standards before getting access to funds for education. Accreditation is also used to determine whether students can sit for state licensure examinations in chosen professional fields.
The Two Types of Accreditations
When confirming the quality of the whole university or college, institutional accreditation is required. Colleges and universities can be evaluated to determine whether their performance is on par with the set standards and where they stand compared to other higher learning institutions.
However, it is important to remember that there are two institutional accreditations – regional and national accreditation. The two have fundamental differences. To understand their pros and cons and how they compare, it is time to delve deep into each accreditation type.
What sets regional accreditation apart from its counterpart is the fact that it is older and more prestigious. Regional accreditation is more common in most non-profit colleges. This type of organization operates in specific regions of the US. They are responsible for evaluating higher learning institutions, granting them accreditations, and ensuring their degrees and credits meet the set minimum quality standards. The process is often voluntary, done to self-regulate the industry of higher education.
Most of the colleges with regional accreditation are academically oriented. They are often state-owned institutions that do not operate for profits. In many cases, regionally accredited colleges and universities are apprehensive about accepting transfer credits from institutions with national accreditation alone. The primary reason is that the accreditation type means these institutions did not fully meet the stringent standards for the qualifications of their faculty and even their library resources.
As seen in the name, regional accreditation agencies serve a particular geographic region in the country. Some even serve international regions. Not only do they oversee the accreditation of higher learning institutions, but they also accredit postsecondary, primary, and secondary schools. Technical and career-based schools are not often part of their domain.
In the United States, a total of 6 regional accreditation agencies operate. This includes:
Formally incorporated under the Pennsylvania Commonwealth law in 2013, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) was once a Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools unit. Eventually, it has become an independent corporation.
Their responsibility is to define, maintain, and promote educational excellence across Delaware, the District of Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Their accrediting responsibilities include evaluating distance education and correspondence education programs offered in the institutions within their scope.
Recognized for maintaining high standards of excellence in the global arena, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges assess educational institutions’ high quality and integrity within the states it serves Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
It has formed partnerships with more than 1,500 public, independent, and international schools within the country and beyond. It was founded in 1885 and has since worked in the establishment and maintenance of high standards for all levels of education.
Also known as the North Central Association, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools serves a total of 19 US states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Wisconsin.
It is accredited by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as a regional accreditor for higher education institutions. The North Central Association of Colleges & Schools has accredited more than 10,000 educational institutions, both public and private.
Located in the traditional homelands of the Duwamish, Stillaguamish, and Coast Salish peoples, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities are recognized to accredit postsecondary institutions by the US Department of Education, and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
It serves the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and British Columbia, including other domestic and international geographic areas.
Committed to the improvement of education in the south, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is responsible for accrediting degree-granting higher education institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Latin America, and certain other approved international sites.
The agency lives by six core values: integrity, peer review/self-regulation, student learning, continuous quality improvement, accountability, and transparency.
Serving California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits not-for-profit, non-degree-granting adult schools, and supplementary education programs.
They aim to encourage school improvement through continuous evaluation and ensure that schools meet their established criteria.
While not considered as rigorous and prestigious as regional accreditation, national accreditation is just as important. It is recognized by the US Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
They are known as national agencies, primarily because of their scope and organization, and they are not limited to regional geographical areas. Historically, their focus is trained to ensure that career, vocational, and trade schools meet the set standards for quality education. This includes fields that require particular licensure, such as healthcare.
Every 3 to 5 years, schools with national accreditation are reviewed and evaluated to make sure they still meet the requirements. The programs in the nationally accredited schools are less expensive and comparably lower admission standards. Credit transfers are allowed from one nationally accredited school to another, but not to regionally accredited schools.
Here are some of the national accreditation agencies within the United States:
Founded in 1926, the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC) is a private, non-profit organization that operates as an accreditor for distance education institutions. Their accreditation process entails preparing self-evaluation reports, visiting the institution to determine whether they meet the accreditation standards, and providing a final review and accreditation decision.
Post-secondary, non-degree-granting institutions and degree-granting institutions that cater to students who wish to pursue occupational, trade, and technical careers must be recognized by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
The Council on Occupational Education has been in the business of assuring quality and integrity in career and technical education. It has operated since 1971, initially known as the Commission on Occupational Education Institutions (COEI) of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission considers institutions offering certificates, diplomas, and associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degrees, and distance education within its scope of accreditation responsibilities. Member institutions must meet national standards in curriculum, programs, and faculty credentials, among others.
The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training came into existence in 1974. They ensure education quality in a diverse array of non-traditional postsecondary educational providers, including Intensive English Programs, Corporate Training Departments, and Religious and Ethical Societies, among others.