Most colleges claim to be accredited by state, regional, or national governing bodies. But what do those ratings mean, and who stands behind them? And what is the difference between regional vs. national accreditation? Let’s take a closer look . . .
What is college accreditation?
The U.S. Department of Education says it best: “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”
Why does college accreditation matter?
Think of it as an insurance policy that protects the value of your education. There is not much point in investing a lot of money in a school that is not accredited by appropriate agencies. Example: If you received training in medical coding from an unaccredited school, that credential isn’t worth much when you apply for jobs.
What’s the difference between regional vs. national accreditation?
This gets a bit complicated. The U.S. Department of Education says: “The U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to accredit private or public elementary or secondary schools, and the Department does not recognize accrediting bodies for the accreditation of private or public elementary and secondary schools. However, the U.S. Department of Education does recognize accrediting bodies for the accreditation of institutions of higher (postsecondary) education.”
Translation: The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t accredit schools directly. It does, however, recognize organizations that provide accreditation to individual schools. And it gets even more complicated, because there are lots of different USDE-approved accrediting agencies. Some are regional, while others accredit specific types of schools. Here’s a partial list.
Accreditation bodies with nationwide reach . . .
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools – Web address: www.abhes.org
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges - Web address: www.accsc.org
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training - Web address: www.accet.org
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training – Web address: www.acics.org
- Council on Occupational Education –Web address: www.council.org
- Distance Education and Training Council - Web address: www.detc.org
Regional college accrediting bodies (partial list) . . .
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) – Web address: www.msche.org
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT) – Web address: www.neasc.org
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, (AZ, MI, MN, MO, NE, NM, ND, OH, OK, SD, WV, WI, WY) – Web address: www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (AL, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA) – Web address: www.nwccu.org
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA) – Web address: www.sacscoc.org
How do I find out if an institution is accredited by appropriate agencies?
Colleges and universities list their regional and national accreditation status on their websites. If you have any doubts, contact the accrediting agencies listed above, others that are listed on the college’s website, or your state’s department of education.
Is accreditation a guarantee that the credits I earn can be transferred to other institutions?
Not necessarily, so try to plan as far ahead as possible. If you plan to study at College A for two years and then transfer to College B, call College B as early as you can to ask whether your credits will transfer. Also: Organizations such as the American Council on Education Credit (ACE) are helpful in assuring that credits transfer from college to college. They are the agency that oversees the transfer of credits from Straiterline, a leading provider of distance learning courses, to colleges nationwide.
Are certification and college accreditation the same thing?
No. College accreditation pertains to the school. Certification means that you have passed an exam or met other requirements that certify you to practice a trade or profession. Certification is often overseen by state or regional agencies. Example: To become a licensed massage therapist in Missouri, you have to meet the requirements of the Missouri State Board of Therapeutic Massage.
Do colleges ever lose their accreditation?
Yes, they do. For example, last year Paul Quinn College in Dallas lost its accreditation (**correction, see comment below) from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. If that happens to your school, it can spell bad news for your work and career. That’s why it pays to check with all applicable accrediting agencies to verify the status of any school you are considering.