Accreditation: What It Means, Who Accredits, and Why It’s Important

Before taking any online class, it is important to research a school’s accreditation. Accreditation is a way to rank institutions of higher learning (both online and offline), certifying that they provide a good education. In essence, it is government-regulated quality control for colleges and universities, and weeds out the quality institutions from diploma mills.

If you’re a recent high school graduate researching colleges or a working professional seeking an advanced degree, accreditation is a term you should familiarize yourself with. Education is expensive, no matter what form of learning you choose so you’ll want to weigh your options carefully. Accreditation means you will receive a high-quality education and ultimately, the career of your dreams.

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

If you want to be successful in your career, you need an education that trains you properly. If a school’s requirements for graduation are lax, chances are that they won’t be able to receive accreditation. You might have an easier college experience, but easier isn’t always better. Students who claim to have a degree but then demonstrate no knowledge or skills are often fired or never hired in the first place.

Accreditation also serves to protect your pocketbook. If you attend a school that is not accredited, you risk losing recognition from employers. Companies look for candidates with accredited degrees. If your resume lists a school without the proper credentials, the money you spent on a non-accredited education is wasted. The information provided below will help guide you through the research process to ensure you the school you choose is legitimate and reputable. In addition, you won’t qualify for most types of financial aid if you don’t attend an accredited school.

So let’s recap the importance of accreditation and why you should care:

  • Accreditation ensures that the school is continuously reviewed and meets nationally endorsed standards.
  • Without accreditation, a school is not eligible to participate in government student assistance programs. This means students are not eligible for loans or other forms of financial aid.
  • Transferring credits from one school to another is only possible if you attended an accredited college or university.
  • Accreditation entitles students to full benefits including admissions privileges, tutoring and counseling services, financial aid, and other student services.

Who Accredits Schools?

There are a number of organizations that accredit schools. These agencies, in most cases, work within a certain region or specialty, and are nationally recognized by the United States Department of Education. Accrediting agencies include:

  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Distance Education and Training Council Accrediting Commission
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Higher Education
  • Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • New York State Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
  • North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

There are also a number of even more specialized agencies that accredit certain types of programs (like dental schools or education-related degree programs). The Department of Education provides a full list of accrediting agencies.

What Determines the Accreditation Status of a School?

Accrediting agencies consider a variety of factors when reviewing institutions of higher learning. Agencies scrutinize the integrity of colleges and universities by researching the following criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education:

  1. Standards: The accrediting agency, in collaboration with educational institutions, establishes standards.
  2. Self-study: The institution or program seeking accreditation prepares an in-depth self-evaluation study that measures its performance against the standards established by the accrediting agency.
  3. On-site Evaluation: A team selected by the accrediting agency visits the institution or program to determine first-hand if the applicant meets the established standards.
  4. Publication: Upon being satisfied that the applicant meets its standards, the accrediting agency grants accreditation or preaccreditation status and lists the institution or program in an official publication with other similarly accredited or preaccredited institutions or programs.
  5. Monitoring: The accrediting agency monitors each accredited institution or program throughout the period of accreditation granted to verify that it continues to meet the agency’s standards.
  6. Reevaluation: The accrediting agency periodically reevaluates each institution or program that it lists to ascertain whether continuation of its accredited or preaccredited status is warranted.

In addition the above criteria, make sure the school you choose meets your own standards of quality. Become a well-informed student by researching as much as possible about student experience, learning outcomes, and overall perceptions of the school.

Online Schools and Accreditation

Online schools have the same accreditation standards as their traditional counterparts. With distance learning on the rise, accrediting agencies have taken steps to ensure the qualify of online programs. And for good reasons. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 4.3 million undergraduate students, or 20 percent of all undergraduates, took at least one distance education course in 2007-2008. Notice in the graph below the increase in technology-enabled educational programs in Texas alone:

Given this substantial increase in e-learning programs, accrediting agencies review online schools in much the same way as a traditional classroom-based college or university. Remember, it’s in your best interest to find out as much as possible about each school of interest. Accreditation protects your investment and ensures your piece of mind.

Is My School of Choice Accredited?

There are over 3,000 online schools and degree programs, so it can be difficult to wade through the available information to find out if they are accredited and, if so, by what agencies. Your best bet is to search the database of accredited programs and institutions from the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.

Once you have a list of potential schools, it’s time to research their accreditation status. Follow the steps below to ensure your chosen school is worthy of your tuition dollars:

  1. Compile a list of schools that you’re interested in.
  2. Visit the school’s website to see if they claim to be accredited by any agencies.
  3. Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
  4. Look up each school on your list by its location. You can also search by accrediting agency.
  5. Eliminate any schools on your list that are not accredited in order to narrow your focus.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge you need to make a well-informed decision about your education, research the schools on our site to find an online program that fits your goals and interests. All schools are accredited and offer degrees that will help you advance your career and empower your resume.

Find Your Degree is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.