Skip to content

Regional vs National Accreditation: What This Means for You


When it comes to regional vs national accreditation, they are not in fact the same thing. The main difference lies in how easily credits can be transferred. If you’re wondering what is the difference between regional and national accreditation, you can find all your answers below.

What is Accreditation Exactly?

When it comes to the difference between regional and national accreditation, it’s first important to understand the overall meaning of accreditation.

Both forms of accreditation, whether regional or national, are methods of confirming that an institution (college or university) is offering a high level of education to its students. It’s a system that these institutions choose to take part in, as a way to ensure that their students will be provided with the most beneficial education. It’s safe to say that it’s a quality assurance and improvement program whose standards are set by a peer review board.

Regional vs. National Accreditation: The Differences

While they both serve the same ultimate goal, when it comes to regional vs national accreditation, there are still crucial differences that need to be understood.

What Is Regional Accreditation?

In general, when people refer to an accredited university in the United States, they tend to be referring to one that has been regionally accredited.

In fact, over 85 percent of all colleges in the US have been regionally accredited, according to the US Department of Education, making it the most widely recognized type of accreditation.

Schools that are regionally accredited focus on studies that are either state-owned or non-profit, with six main regional accrediting agencies:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

What Is National Accreditation?

National accreditation agencies are more focused on providing accreditation for trade and vocational schools, as well as career programs for a variety of degrees and certifications.

Since these institutions have a more specific focus, they are less standardized than a traditional accredited school, and are therefore reviewed every 3-5 years.

There are many of these agencies in the United States that are recognized by the US Department of Education and aren’t limited to geographic location.

Student attending a regionally accredited college to leave his options open and transfer his credits if need be
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator from Pexels

What Are The Major Differences?

The main difference between regional and national accreditation is that regionally accredited institutions are more commonly accepted and easily transferable than nationally accredited programs.

While there is a clear difference between regional and national accreditation, it does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. Regionally accredited colleges are generally considered to be more elite than nationally accredited colleges, but it of course depends on what you want to study.

Regionally accredited colleges also tend to be more expensive, however, paying this higher price allows them the flexibility to transfer credits without paying twice for the courses, and also offers the option of tuition reimbursements.

Why Does The Difference Matter So Much?

The difference between regional and national accreditation is crucial for many students, and is a big factor to take into consideration when choosing where to pursue one’s studies.

Attending an institution that has not been accredited on either level is a waste of money and time. Choosing which type of accreditation is best for you depends on factors such as how many credits are transferable if you decide to change schools, how employable it will make you, tuition reimbursements, and costs.

For example, it would be a real shame to attend a nationally accredited school and then move away a year later, transfer schools, and have to start your degree from the beginning and take courses all over again.

Should Schools Be Accredited?

Educational institutions in the United States are given a lot of freedom to operate as they please. Accreditation is given to schools that choose to meet the standards of the Department of Education through accreditation agencies.

Your school should most certainly be accredited in order to protect you for both now and the future. This is not only to ensure you the highest quality of education, but also to make the transfer process as easy as possible and to help your employment search once you enter the workforce.

How Colleges are Accredited

In order to become accredited, an educational institution must take several steps, starting out with the agency and institution establishing which criteria must be met.

The school is then supposed to give themselves a self-evaluation based on that set criteria. If a school believes that they have met all the standards, then a team is sent by the accrediting agency to perform a check.

If the team from the external agency concludes that the school has met the expectations, they can then grant accreditation.

It does not end there, however. Revaluations take place every few years to ensure that they are still eligible. The whole process generally takes between 18 months and 2 years to complete.

Some Schools Are Not Accredited

Not all schools choose to become accredited, regardless of regional vs. national accreditation. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as the costly process or perhaps they want to offer a non-traditional learning system.

In other cases, some schools unfortunately do not choose to become accredited because they offer ineffective programs.

Impact On Employment

If a school is not accredited, it’s hard to know how credible and reputable it truly is, which can cause obvious challenges when searching for employment after graduation. An interviewer may not know how valid a diploma is, even if the person completed intensive studies.

Transferring Credits & Schools

When it comes to transferring both credits and schools, accreditation is crucial. Without it, since the courses are not considered standardized and at the expected level, they will not be counted if you switch schools mid-degree.

Financial Aid

Students who study at an accredited institution can be given financial aid, with no difference between regional and national accreditation. This is another reason why it’s so important to be accredited. The institution must meet a section of the Higher Education Act, specifically Title IV, in order to provide the option of financial aid.

How Transferring Affects Financial Aid

Transfering schools from one accredited school to another, with no difference whether they are regionally or nationally accredited, should have no effect on financial aid. As long as the school is accredited, federal grants can still be given.

Checking a School’s Accreditation

In order to ensure that you’re getting the most of your education, it’s key to check that your school is actually accredited. Here’s how to check.

Free Tools

There are a variety of free online tools that can help you check. The Department of Education has a database of all of the accredited institutions.

If you are studying a trade, it might be helpful to check if your planned career path requires accreditation from your program, which can be checked through the CHEA database.


You can also check to see if a school is accredited through the accreditation agencies themselves.

For regional accreditation, there are six, including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Higher Learning Commission, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

For national accreditation, some agencies include Distance Education & Training Council, and Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Student checking the accreditation of potential schools as he weighs out his options
Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

What Kinds Of Schools Tend To Be Accredited?

Older, established, and respected institutions tend to be regionally accredited, with nearly every non-profit, public school in the United States accredited. Most legitimate for-profit trade schools are nationally accredited.

The Pros & Cons Of Regional vs. National Accreditation

The Pros & Cons Of Regional vs. National Accreditation

What Is Programmatic Accreditation?

Programmatic accreditation is another type of accreditation that is usually at the national level. It’s sometimes referred to as professional accreditation or specialized accreditation. It focuses on reviewing individual academic units or programs to ensure that they are offering students with the highest quality of education in specific fields of study.

Transferring Credits Between Schools with Different Accreditation

Transferring credits between schools with different accreditation tends to be problematic. Regionally accredited schools will not accept credits from nationally accredited schools, accepting only those from other regionally accredited schools. But for the most part, nationally accredited schools will accept all accreditation.

Which Accreditation You Should Opt For

Regional accreditation vs. national accreditation, which one is best? Well, that’s a tough question and it can be very individual.

When it comes to certain criteria, nationally accredited colleges seem to be more favorable, as they may have a more affordable cost and higher acceptance rates. For someone looking to take a more vocational or technical path, nationally accredited schools may be ideal.

But when it comes to other criteria, regionally accredited schools also have many benefits, most notably a higher academic reputation and ability to easily transfer credits. Regionally accredited schools are the most widely accepted and also have the potential for tuition reimbursement (which national accreditation does not).

Your academic future may be more stable with a regionally accredited school, but vocational types of education in today’s day in age is also never a bad move.

Regionally Accredited Online Schools

There are many regionally accredited online schools for students who choose to study from home.

When it comes to online schools, it’s especially important that they be regionally accredited, allowing students with the flexibility to transfer their credits if they decide to eventually enroll in full-time classes or transfer to another online college.

Some accredited online schools include the University of the People, Western Governs University, American University, and Northwestern University.

Plan for Transferring

Students today are transferring schools more than ever before. It’s become increasingly popular to change career paths, plans, and interests as we learn more about ourselves.

Only 67 percent of college students graduate from the institution that they began their studies at.

With all this being said, it’s important to plan for transferring ahead of time, generally meaning opting for a regionally accredited school. When it comes to regional vs national accreditation, there is no right or wrong, no better or worse. It depends what’s right for you. That said, if you do want to leave all doors open, regionally accredited colleges tend to be safer.