If you’re considering online schools for a college degree, you probably have a lot of questions. One of the things prospective students find most confusing is college accreditation. What is the difference between regional and national accreditation? Is college accreditation really necessary? And what does it all mean to you?
College Accreditation and Legitimacy
One of the major influencers for pursuing a college degree online is to advance in one’s career or acquire the degree necessary for employment in a desired field. Since employers will usually view credits from any unaccredited institution as invalid, it is important that you enroll in an accredited school if you are pursuing a traditional degree. In addition, an unaccredited school may even be fraudulent. With an online degree, a legitimate education is all employers care about, most having little knowledge of or interest in national vs. regional accreditation. Keep in mind there are some professional schools that are not eligible for college accreditation, so they are not necessarily fraudulent. If you are attending a non-traditional school or just taking a skills course, college accreditation may not be a concern for you. In this case just be sure to research the institution well.
Regional and National Accreditation Agencies
Now that you are looking for accredited schools you will find that there are two different types of accreditation: regional and national. Both include many agencies that accredit colleges and universities. These agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). You can check their websites to see if your potential school choices were accredited by recognized agencies.
What College Accreditation Agencies Do
National accreditation and regional accreditation do have some things in common. Both agencies do a thorough review of schools. In order to achieve accreditation, a school must have their programs, campuses, and educational delivery methods evaluated. These accreditation agencies are never for profit or run by the government. They are all non-profit organizations. The schools that are accredited by either a national agency or a regional agency may offer federal financial aid, but you will need to research this with the individual schools.
The Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation
Any school (and some schools abroad) may seek national accreditation. Regional accreditation agencies will only accredit colleges within their region. Regional agencies began with a focus on regional traditional colleges and universities, while national accreditation agencies were more focused on schools with a common theme. In fact, there are many religious national accreditation agencies, such as the Association of Theological Schools and the Association for Biblical Higher Education.
One of the biggest considerations when deciding on a school is whether your credits will transfer later if you pursue a higher degree – such as going from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s or a bachelor’s to a master’s degree. While nationally accredited institutions accept credit from both regionally and nationally accredited schools, it is rarely the case in reverse. Regionally accredited schools typically honor only regionally accredited schools.
Finding a Quality School Requires Additional Research
One important thing to also consider is your school’s reputation and what they offer. Once you’ve put the accreditation issue aside, you still need to compare institutions and how each one can help you meet your goals. Choose the school that will offer you the most value. College accreditation does not necessarily guarantee excellence in education, but just ensures the school meets certain required standards. Depending on the degree or skills you intend to acquire you will need to decide whether college accreditation is necessary, whether regional or national is best for you, and if the school will meet all your needs. By reading information like this, you are well on your way to making a well-informed decision!