The type of accreditation that a college or university has is vitally important to your success after graduating. Accreditation determines if the educational institution is reputable in the eyes of potential employers, certification organizations, and other educational institutions. Most colleges will have a legitimate accreditation, especially if it is a larger public school or reputable private school, but you still need to be wary of the ones who don't.
Colleges that don't have accreditation aren't necessarily bad, but they won't be able to offer you the same opportunities as ones that are. Especially for online and distance learning institutions, you'll want to know that you are paying for an accredited education.
Types of accreditation
There are three main types of accreditation: national, regional, and specialized accreditation that apply to certain academic programs.
There are ten national accreditation organizations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
- Association for Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation
- Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, Accreditation Commission
- Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission
These agencies oversee a large number of schools, online, offline, and distance learning. For the most part, nationally accredited schools are for-profit and will typically be vocational, technical, or career-focused training programs.
There are seven major regional accreditation boards across the nation:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), including postsecondary institutions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, D.C., Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC), including Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), for Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), including four-year colleges in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, Northern Marianas Islands, and schools for American children in Asia.
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, including two-year colleges in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, Northern Marianas Islands, and for American children in Asia.
These seven accrediting organizations for the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC), which oversees the agencies to ensure accredited public and private colleges and universities are upheld to quality academic standards.
Regional accreditation is typically the accreditation people and employers ask for when the are concerned about your educational institution. Typically, regional accreditation by one of these seven organizations holds more importance and credibility than schools with only national accreditation. However, schools can have both types of accreditation as well.
Specialized accreditation has to do with a school's academic program, or a school dedicated to a specific educational area of focus. For example, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) for nursing schools, or the American Bar Association (ABA) for law schools.
When considering the credibility of specialized accreditation, you should first look to see what potential employers will look for when you graduate. You don't want to end up going to school for four years only to find out that you are unemployable because employers won't accept your education.
Accreditation and distance learning
Online programs and distance learning institutions are where you need to do the most research to ensure you are getting legitimate and quality education. Most of these programs will only be nationally accredited.
What is most important here is that most regionally accredited schools won't accept transfer credits from schools that are only nationally accredited. This means that if you are attending an online school, your education is pointless in terms of filling credit requirements for a degree at a school that is only regionally accredited.
Unaccredited educational institutions
To be perfectly honest, it is unadvisable to attend a college that isn't accredited, especially one that you have to pay to attend. If you aren't paying for the class and you just want to learn more about a particular subject, then it may be a good option, just don't expect your employer to give you a raise or promotion because you obtained more knowledge. In fact, in some professional fields, your educational experience will be outright rejected if it came from an unaccredited institution.