What is College Accreditation?

Determining whether or not an academic institution is accredited by a recognized organization is one of the most important steps in the entire college application process.

College accreditation is a process through which an institution of higher education is evaluated and recognized by an accreditor as meeting certain standards of educational quality and excellence.

Although the law does not obligate schools to have accreditation, it serves as a token of legitimacy and distinction.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the average total cost of getting college accreditation is around 5% to 10% of the institution’s overall investment in research and continued improvement.

Some colleges and universities in the US, as a matter of fact, spend around $3 billion to get accredited!

How It Works

The accreditation process involves the college or university looking to be accredited and meeting the academic standards set by a college accrediting body, which is an agency tasked with accrediting institutions of higher education.

The organization conducts an on-site evaluation, determining the school’s accreditation status.

Before anything else, let’s get this matter out of the way: it’s not mandatory for academic institutions in the US to be accredited.

So, in other words, they can operate even without any accreditation.

Since accreditation is not mandatory, colleges must apply for it if they want one.

This begins with the academic institution reviewing the eligibility requirements of the accrediting agency — needless to say, different accreditors have different requirements.

There are three main types of college accreditation from various kinds of accrediting organizations.

Three Types of College Accreditation

College accreditation can be institutional or programmatic.

Institutional accreditation can be regional or national.

Which between the two types of institutional accreditation a college has depends on factors such as what kind of school it is and what programs it offers.

On the other hand, programmatic accreditation is more concerned with a specific program being offered by a college or university rather than the academic institution offering it.

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is regarded as the more widely recognized and more prestigious of the two types of institutional accreditation, given that it has more rigorous educational quality standards than national accreditation.

As the name suggests, it’s given by accrediting agencies to schools in their geographic locations.

Speaking of which, seven regional accrediting bodies accredit postsecondary institutions in the US:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

The vast majority of regionally accredited schools are state-owned colleges and universities as well as non-profit private institutions, although it’s important to point out that some for-profit private schools may also be regionally accredited.

Of course, finding institutions with regional accreditation is easier than those with national accreditation because they tend to be some of the largest in the land — many are also some of the most prestigious and selective.

State and flagship schools as well as university systems, are some of them, too.

To give you a much better idea, here are some colleges and universities that are regionally accredited:

  • Adelphi University
  • Appalachian State University
  • Arizona State University
  • Babson College
  • Ball State University
  • Boise State University
  • Brandeis University
  • California State University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Clemson University
  • Columbia University
  • CUNY schools
  • DePaul University
  • Drexel University
  • Emory University
  • Excelsior University
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgetown University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Gonzaga University
  • Harvard University
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Indiana University
  • Iowa State University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Kentucky State University
  • LeTourneau University
  • Liberty University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Marshall University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Mississippi College
  • Morehead State University
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Oregon State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Pepperdine University
  • Purdue Global
  • Rutgers University
  • San Jose State University
  • Southern Oregon University
  • Stanford University
  • SUNY schools
  • Syracuse University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Tulane University
  • UC schools
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Florida
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Villanova University
  • Washington State University
  • Yale University

It’s worth pointing out that some online schools have regional accreditation, too, especially those that serve as virtual campuses offering online degrees of regionally accredited colleges and universities.

National Accreditation

While it’s not considered as widely recognized and prestigious as regional accreditation, national accreditation is nonetheless legit, and academic institutions with such kind of accreditation are reliable and recognized.

Unlike regional accrediting bodies that give accreditation to schools found in their geographic areas, national accrediting agencies provide accreditation to schools located across the country.

There are far more nationally accrediting bodies than their regional counterparts, and some examples are:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE)
  • Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS)
  • Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
  • Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCS)
  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
  • National Association of Schools of Music, Commission on Accreditation (NASM)
  • Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission (TRACS)

Institutions with national accreditation are different from those with regional accreditation.

The vast majority of nationally accredited ones are trade and vocational schools.

Many of them are those that offer career programs resulting in certifications and degrees. A lot of online colleges are nationally accredited as well.

Here are some examples of postsecondary institutions in the US with national accreditation:

  • Associated Technical College
  • Atlantis University
  • Blue Cliff Career College
  • Brownson Technical School
  • Bryan University Online
  • California Science and Technology University
  • Carnegie Institute
  • Charter College
  • Colorado Heights University
  • Concorde Career College
  • Eastwick College
  • Everest University
  • Florida Academy of Nursing
  • Fremont University
  • Full Sail University
  • Globe University
  • Hallmark University
  • Holmes Institute
  • Illinois Media School
  • Lincoln College of Technology
  • Lionel University
  • Midwest Technical Institute
  • Miller-Motte College Online
  • Minnesota School of Business
  • Moreland University
  • Motion Picture Institute
  • National Aviation Academy of New England
  • Nexford University
  • North American University
  • Penn Foster College
  • Porter and Chester Institute
  • Provo College
  • Remington College
  • Rhombus University
  • San Diego Global Knowledge University
  • Sanford-Brown College
  • Shiloh University
  • Sonoran Desert Institute
  • Southern States University
  • Stellar Career College
  • Texas Health and Science University
  • University of Fairfax
  • University of the People
  • University of Pasadena
  • Virginia International University
  • Weston Distance Learning

Programmatic Accreditation

There is a type of college accreditation that doesn’t fall under the institutional accreditation category, such as regional and national accreditation, and it’s known as programmatic accreditation.

It’s also sometimes referred to as professional accreditation and specialized accreditation.

Instead of accrediting the entire college or university, programmatic accreditation accredits a particular program or any academic offering of an institution, no matter if it’s private or public, large or small, or degree-granting or trade.

The presence of programmatic accreditation means that the particular program meets certain academic standards.

Programmatic accreditation occurs separately from institutional accreditation — a college may have institutional accreditation and at the same time, programmatic accreditation for some or all of its academic programs.

Here are some examples of programmatic accrediting agencies in the US:

  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET)
  • American Chemical Society (ACS)
  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • American Psychological Association, Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA)
  • Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA)
  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE)
  • Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
  • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC)
  • International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
  • Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
  • National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)
  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • National Committee for the Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE)
  • Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)
  • Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS)

Importance of Being Accredited

College accreditation is important because it allows students to enjoy certain benefits not only throughout their postsecondary education careers but also after getting their hands on their college diplomas.

First things first: just because a school isn’t accredited doesn’t mean right away that it’s a fraud.

You can attend a college with no institutional accreditation and still obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for you to be able to pursue your intended career path as well as enjoy various money-making opportunities.

Diploma mills with no accreditation — although many proudly claim to be accredited have meaningless accreditation from a non-existing accrediting agency — should be avoided at all costs!

Still, it’s generally a good idea to attend an accredited school due to the following reasons:

Federal Financial Aid Eligibility

While it’s not uncommon for some colleges without any accreditation to offer institutional scholarships or aid (financial aid from the school itself), none of their students may be eligible for federal financial aid.

As a matter of fact, students may not be eligible, too, if their programs are unaccredited.

Especially if you are from a low-income family and cannot pay the full sticker price and could use all the financial assistance you can get, ensure that the college is accredited and thus participates in the federal financial aid program.

Credit Transfer

No matter the reason for switching academic institutions, it’s important that the credits you already earned will transfer with you to avoid wasting both time and money and delaying the procurement of your degree.

Credit from a regionally accredited school can easily transfer to another institution with regional accreditation.

But it’s important to note that credit obtained from a nationally accredited college can transfer without trouble to another nationally accredited school but rarely to a regionally accredited institution.

Graduate School or Professional Licence Eligibility

Thinking about earning a graduate degree someday?

Then, you must earn your bachelor’s degree from an accredited college; otherwise, the graduate school of your choosing is very unlikely to consider your application.

Many careers require professional licenses, from cosmetologists, electricians, and therapists to lawyers.

Requirements for applying for a license can vary from one industry to the next and from one state to the other, but a certificate or diploma from an accredited academic institution is a prerequisite that many share.

Employment Opportunities

Some employers contact academic institutions directly, while others rely on third-party verification services.

Regardless, the importance to them of hiring individuals whose certificates or degrees are worth something and were conferred by legitimate colleges and universities cannot be stressed enough.

How to Know If a College is Accredited

Determining whether or not an academic institution is properly accredited requires visiting a few websites.

They include those of the college itself, the accrediting agency responsible for the school’s accreditation and the US Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

All kinds of factors are considered by many college-bound high schoolers who want to make sure that they will be applying to institutions they will gladly attend if they respond with an acceptance letter.

They include anything from tuition costs, location, room and board, acceptance rate to clubs available.

Unfortunately, not many teens determine if the school of their choosing is accredited before adding it to their college list, which is too bad since it’s surprisingly easy to ascertain an institution’s accreditation status.

The following are the steps to take in verifying if a college is accredited or not:

Access the College’s Website

Just about any fully accredited institution will proudly declare on its website that it has accreditation, which serves as proof that it’s completely legitimate and has met certain academic standards, too.

You can learn about a school’s accreditation on the About Me or Office of Institutional Research and Analytics page.

Take note of the name of the accrediting agency as well as what sort of institutional accreditation the college has.

Also, check which of its academic offerings has programmatic accreditation.

Visit the Accrediting Body’s Website

Any college or university can claim that it’s accredited.

But it’s important to substantiate that the accrediting agency that’s said to be behind the school’s accreditation actually confirms it, and that’s by visiting the accreditor’s website.

Heading to the directory of member institutions allows you to look for the name of the school you wish to apply to.

Be suspicious if the college’s name is nowhere to be found on the list — check out the page where the agency discusses accrediting and public disclosure actions to see if the school has been removed from accreditation.

Check for Recognition

It’s not enough that the college of your choosing has accreditation — it must also come from an agency that the US Department of Education and/or CHEA recognizes.

Doing this is important because it helps ensure that the school’s accreditation is provided by an accreditor that meets acceptable levels of standards set by the US Department of Education and CHEA.

Here’s a list of institutional accrediting agencies and programmatic accrediting agencies that the US Department of Education recognizes, plus a few other helpful information about college accreditation in the country.

On the other hand, here’s a list of CHEA-recognized accrediting organizations.

Scams and Scandals

While college accreditation serves as an assurance of quality and reliability, there have been incidents in the past about the matter that can leave one wondering if being accredited alone should bring enough peace of mind.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACSIS), for instance, lost its recognition by the US Department of Education as a national accrediting agency for failure to comply with federal recognition criteria.

Coincidentally, it’s the one responsible for the national accreditation of for-profit schools such as Education Corporation of America, which ran a chain of schools, and Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.

The said schools were shut down for not meeting baseline standards for educational quality, among other things.

In another case, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) withdrew its accreditation of schools affiliated with the Utah-based Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE).

Earlier, we talked about the fact that colleges and universities in the US are not obligated to obtain accreditation from recognized accrediting agencies, which makes it easy for phony institutions to offer their services.

Due to the country’s decentralized system for accrediting schools, many can enter the job market with fake degrees.

True enough, 20 people were convicted of participating in selling fake nursing degrees from South Florida-based institutions that allowed recipients to sit for the national nursing board exam.

This resulted in many fake nurses working from nursing homes in Texas to an assisted living facility in New Jersey as well as under a New York-based agency for providing care for homebound pediatric patients.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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