Want an Accredited Online College Degree? Check the College Accreditation

Want an Accredited Online College Degree? Check the College Accreditation

Posted 05.23.2012 in Articles by Angela

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that institutions of higher learning meet certain standards of education. Essentially, accredited institutions are known and recognized to give education of acceptable quality for work or graduate-and-higher level learning, whereas institutions that are not accredited do not have such a guarantee. Students with degrees received from accredited institutions are known to have met the recognized criteria in that field of study and essentially has received education that meets quality standards. A student without a degree from an accredited school will most likely have a harder time finding a job or transferring academic credits than one who has attended a school with accreditation. Not all schools need to be accredited, however; some specialty schools in trade or other specialized areas may not have accreditation, but are still recognized in their particular community as giving a quality education.

There are many different types of accreditation out there, and it is important to not become confused. Accrediting agencies are agencies that determine the standards for accreditation, perform evaluations, and give out findings. The agencies the U.S. Secretary of Education recognizes as accredited are referred to as “nationally recognized”. The institutions those agencies accredit are eligible to give federal financial aid. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is another reputable and reliable source that also recognizes accreditation agencies for schools.

Different educational institutions require different types of accreditation. There are two basic types, institutional accreditation and specialized (also called “programmatic”) accreditation. Institutional accreditation means that the entire institution and its entire constituent parts have achieved quality standards, including in curriculum, student services, and all the other parts, have met the standards. Specialized accreditation agencies only give accreditation to a specific program or department within a school, or a specialized school within the agency’s scope (i.e. a specialized field such as dentistry.)

There is also a distinction between regional accreditation and national accreditation. Academically-oriented and non-profit schools usually receive regional accreditation, whereas vocational, career, for-profit schools usually receive national accreditation.

With the importance of accreditation in many professional and academic fields, making sure your school is accredited is important. The school website may say if it is accredited and by whom. Make sure that the agency they have received accreditation from is valid, recognized by CHEA or USDE. Also, the United States Department of Education has a search tool (http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx) that finds the institution and gives the information on whether it is accredited or not, what specific accreditations it has, etc. Schools not on the USDE list may be accredited by CHEA, and can be searched for in their database (http://www.chea.org/search/default.asp). Newly accredited schools may not yet be in either database. The best way to clear up any confusion is to call the school and ask, then verify the information they give you.

However, even if your school is not accredited, an unaccredited school is okay in some situations. Some specialized schools may not need accreditation to be legitimate and reputable in their field. To learn more about this, speak to alumni from the school or to others in the career field to find out what kind of impact, if any, accreditation will have on your future. One thing to keep in mind is that unaccredited schools don’t offer financial aid, and their credits may not be transferable to other colleges.

Beware of diploma mills, schools that sell diplomas or offer diplomas while giving the student little to no education. Check the validation of the school’s accreditation by looking at the list of recognized accreditation agencies in the USDE database or the CHEA database. If the agency is not recognized, or if the school has other suspicious keys such as offering a diploma in a very short amount of time or schools charging a flat fee for a diploma rather than requiring payment by credits and courses, schools that advertise with spam or pop-up ads, names that sound similar to famous institutions’ names, or schools offering a degree based on “life experiences” are all signs that the institution may be a diploma mill rather than a legitimate accredited mill.

Keep in mind that accreditation is important when choosing a college. It affects not only your career path, but also determines whether or not the college offers financial aid, or if you will be able to transfer credits or continue your education at higher-level institutions. It will also affect many career fields, as employers may filter out those who have not attended accredited schools and those who have not. Ultimately, accreditation is a measure of the quality of the institution and the resources and education available there, and the education at an accredited college is a guarantee of education that meets quality standards.

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