Guide To College Accreditation

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Accreditation is an extensive process that requires a school to meet complex standards set by independent agencies. It is a designation earned by institutions that voluntarily participate in an evaluation process to demonstrate that they meet predefined quality standards, thereby ensuring that the program or institution offers students a practical, high-quality education. This article is an in-depth guide to college accreditation that every student should read before applying for any college degree.

What Does Accredited

What does accredited mean? Accreditation, meaning ‘the act of granting credit or recognition’, is a way to monitor and maintain the quality of an organization, product, or service. Usually used in the education context, it simply means that the institution in question maintains suitable and expected quality and delivery standards. Accreditation is especially important in education as it can determine if a student will be able to continue their studies at the next level. It is a status or approval that allows students to earn credit for courses taken at certain institutions that can easily be transferred to another institution or program. Furthermore, employers always prefer to hire candidates who have graduated from a school that has been appropriately recognized and accredited by an authorized accrediting agency.

Accreditation agencies do not have any administrative duties but instead, serve in an advisory capacity. They do this by holding institutions accountable for upholding accreditation standards established by the agency – standards which are frequently designed to achieve some or all of the following goals:

Maintaining Sound Educational Quality Throughout Institutions Of Education;
Promoting And Fostering Sound Educational Practice;
Assuring The Public Of The Integrity Of Education Provided By Institutions Of Education;
Enhancing The Mobility And Career Opportunities For Individual Students.

Unaccredited institutions are those that have not had their academic quality reviewed by any recognized agency.

Why Is Accreditation

Types Of

There are broadly two types of accreditations – Institutional Accreditation and Programmatic Accreditation, also known as Specialized Accreditation.

1. Institutional Accreditation

Institutional Accreditation is a sort of accreditation issued by regional authorities. It recognizes that an institution’s various components work together to achieve a common purpose. This type of accreditation is a voluntary process undertaken by a college or institution. The university requests that an accreditation agency evaluate its programs, faculty, and student success to see if they fulfill higher education standards. If the standards are met, the institution is accredited and reviewed regularly to ensure that the entire institution remains compliant. Within Institutional Accreditation, there are two sub-forms – National Accreditation and Regional Accreditation.

National Accreditation

Schools that focus on career or religious education typically receive national accreditation. Most nationally certified colleges are for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs.

The role of national accrediting agencies is slightly varied. As the name implies, a National accrediting agency accredits colleges throughout the United States. They usually accredit for-profit vocational, technical, or career schools. While some organizations, like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), specialize in institutional accreditation, others, like the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE), provide both institutional and Programmatic Accreditation.

The transfer of credits earned is a major challenge for regional and national accrediting agencies. Nationally accredited schools frequently accept credits from other nationally certified colleges and regionally accredited schools. In most instances, regionally accredited colleges and universities will not accept credits from nationally accredited colleges and universities, and vice versa. Instead, schools will typically accept transfer credits from schools that share the same or similar accreditation because this demonstrates that their curriculums and standards are equivalent.

Regional Accreditation is a voluntary process by which institutions and universities demonstrate that their programs and degrees have met and continue to meet preset standards. Regional accrediting agencies cover various areas within the United States. While most of them cater to specific regions within the country, some of them serve overseas locations as well. They certify educational institutions at all levels – elementary, middle, high schools, colleges, and universities. Rather than technical or career-related schools, each of these bodies concentrates on certifying academically oriented, non-profit colleges. In all, six regional accrediting bodies accredit about 85% of all colleges in the U.S:

Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

covers and serves Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

covers and serves Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

covers and serves Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

covers and serves California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

covers and serves Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)

covers and serves Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Programmatic Accreditation

Apart from the institute being accredited as a whole, individual programs within the institution may be accredited independently as well. This may be more crucial than institutional accreditation, depending on the career field one intends to enter. Psychology, education, medical specialty, engineering, and social work are just a few examples of disciplines where a student’s degree must be accredited independently of the university. Professional associations associated with that field of study undertake program-based accreditation, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) for Psychology or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for business. This certification ensures that the program of study satisfies the field’s standards for education and experience, ensuring that the student has the background necessary to succeed in their field.

Programmatic or Specialized Accreditation is also applied to programs that serve highly specialized populations, such as the armed forces or students with disabilities or specific learning disabilities, and is relatively common for certificate and license programs. This form of accreditation is usually provided by an industry association rather than an educational institution. For example, a national agency provides certification in the field of cosmetology. If someone holds this certificate, they are eligible to work as a beautician in many states. While the agency requires training and testing, it does not offer courses or programs of study.

Apart from these, there are several other accreditations, such as the CCNE accreditation, WASC accreditation (for schools), CACREP accreditation, etc., and ABET accredited programs, CARF accredited, CCNE accredited, NAEYC accredited, and more.

Regional Vs National

What Are The Advantages
Of Accreditation


While an education from regionally or nationally accredited schools may be required by some employers, such as the federal government, a programmatically approved degree may be required for students seeking work in professions such as education or psychology where certification and licensure are required.


To be eligible for federal financial aid, students must be enrolled in a regionally or nationally accredited college or university. If students must be eligible for federal financial aid, they must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As a result, regional or national certification is required for several state and private types of financial aid.


Regionally recognized graduate schools, for example, typically only accept students with degrees from regionally accredited programs when they apply to these programs for admission. The same holds for transferring students: only credits from other authorized colleges can be accepted by regionally accredited institutions. The rigor of their curriculum may be validated because both institutions have been assessed by a regulatory agency, allowing for seamless course credit transfer.

Who Accredits Colleges
And Universities?

Who Accredits Online

Most regionally accredited schools offer online programs and distance learning programs. Although accrediting agencies, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) may not specifically address online programs, it has now become a common practice for colleges to seek programmatic accreditation for online offerings as well. In general, however, if an online college accreditation is in place, it would be reasonably safe to assume that its on-campus and online programs are accredited. That said, certain programs, such as psychology, business, education, occupational therapy, etc., will have to be accredited by specialized accrediting agencies, even if the institution providing these programs is regionally or nationally accredited.

For schools that offer online programs that often come under the ambit of distance learning programs, students need to determine if the school is regionally accredited and if the program they are enrolling in is programmatically accredited (if necessary).

How To Find Out If A School
Is Accredited?

Faqs About College

What Is Accreditation?

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

What Role Does Accreditation Play In A Distance Learning Context?

Does The U.S Department Of Education Specifically Recognize Or Accredit Online Colleges And Universities?

Can I Check For Accreditation With The U.S Department Of Education?

Can I Access Financial Aid And Transfer Credits If I Attend An Accredited College?

Can I Transfer Credits From One College To Another If They Have Different Accreditations?

Accredited Online Degrees And
Accredited Online Programs

Now that accreditation has been explained in detail, it is advisable to gain insight into online degrees and online programs. Here are some quick links to informative resources:

Additional Resources About Accredited
Colleges And Universities