Education is diverse. There are traditional college campuses, private colleges, public institutions, home schooling, online universities, and more. While many students have their own list of factors like cost and location when choosing their school of choice, many may wonder about accreditation. Why is accreditation important? Simply, it means that what the school says it will offer is actually the truth. It is an unbiased review that adds to credibility.
Let’s take a look at all you need to know about accreditation.
What Does Accredited Mean?
The primary goal of accreditation is to ensure that institutes of higher education are credible and provide quality education. Schools are accredited by third parties. This helps to give an unbiased review of the school’s offering so students can trust they receive what they are promised from an institution.
Who Decides Which Schools are Accredited?
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Education assesses colleges for accreditation. Every college and university is supposed to be accredited at least once every five years. There are two types of accreditation:
It’s most crucial that students realize schools that are nationally accredited are not considered accredited on the regional level, and vice versa. This means that you cannot transfer credits between the two. A regional accreditation is recognized as a higher form of accreditation because it’s on a more local level.
However, it’s more likely that trade, vocational, and sometimes online schools are nationally accredited.
Why Is Accreditation Important?
When choosing what college to attend, students generally consider cost, location, majors offered, entry requirements, financial aid, and the like. But, as mentioned, accreditation should also remain top of mind.
This is because accreditation:
- Helps see if an institution meets or exceeds the necessary quality standards
- Helps students decide if an institution is worthwhile for their enrollment
- Helps institutions determine if credits can be transferred
- Helps employers understand the credibility of an institution from which their employees graduated
- Helps determine if an institution is eligible for tuition reimbursement
- Allows graduates to sit for certification exams
- Helps to outline goals for improvement
- Helps provide a standard eligibility for loan assistance on a federal level
- Helps assure that an institution is operating responsibly on a financial level and that it meets its educational goals
Is Accreditation Important When Choosing an Online School?
When it comes to online education, there are so many options to choose from. However, it is of utmost importance to attend an accredited online institution, as it helps to maintain credibility. Since online schools are growing in their numbers, you want to still ensure that you attend a quality institution.
For example, the University of the People received our accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Furthermore, the University of the People received approval to be regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
How are Schools Accredited?
Depending on the type of school, accrediting agencies determine what to look for. However, all schools must demonstrate how they serve students and accomplish their mission. They must also show that they have resources in place to achieve their mission and that it has been successful throughout their operations and actions.
Who Accredits Schools?
Although the U.S Department of Education does not accredit schools themselves, they have a list of verified third parties that do so.
For international schools, make sure that they have been accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Programmatic Accreditation vs. Institutional Accreditation
A school may receive institutional or programmatic accreditation. This is the difference:
Administered by specialized professionals in accrediting bodies. For example, law schools are generally accredited on a programmatic basis by the American Bar Association.
This form of accreditation happens on a broad and institution-wide level by major accrediting bodies. The most famous accrediting agencies in the United States are:
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- North Central Association (NCA)
What if a School is Unaccredited?
If a school is unaccredited, you can still attend it, but do so with caution. This is because you may miss out on the following important aspects:
- Will not be eligible to receive federal financial aid
- May lack quality education
- Cannot transfer credits
- Institutions may not recognize your degree
- Employees may not recognize your degree
There are some red flags from unaccredited schools which include:
- May have a name that’s similar to well-known schools
- May receive rewards as a student for doing little work
- May be accredited by an agency that is not recognized by the Department of Education
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The Accreditation Reform Act of 2020
This year, a new act has been brought into light to address the shortcomings of the United States Department of Education’s oversight in the accreditation process.
In an effort to bring democratized and high-quality education to all people from all places, the Accreditation Reform Act of 2020 aims to:
- Require the U.S. Department of Education to conduct evidence-based reviews
- Enforce checks and balances by empowering the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to participate in the accreditation process
- Allow the education secretary more power in denying the accrediting agencies from being recognized
- Increase transparency throughout the accreditation process
Overall, the US has experienced disproportionate educational standards for low-income students. This act aims to promote equality in education and ensure that all people have the right to access top-notch education.
Similarly, the University of the People was founded with the same mission to offer quality, online education to all people around the world as education is a human right. Not to mention, all degrees are tuition-free!
The Bottom Line
As a student or prospective student, one of the most important considerations when choosing your school is to make sure it is accredited. Not only will this matter when potentially transferring credits, but it may also play a role in your employment opportunities down the line.
Accredited schools are more credible sources of education because third-party agencies have assessed their mission and promises. If you’re looking to attend an online college, take a look at all that the University of the People has to offer (including accreditation)!