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What is Accreditation and Why is it So Important?

Tyson Schritter / Abound: Finish College

A college education is an expensive undertaking that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take several years of effort. With all that students and universities put into them, how can we trust that the degrees earned are worth anything? The answer is: through accreditation.

Accreditation is how employers, institutions, and others can trust that you have been sufficiently educated without having to test you themselves. It creates standards that allow students to transfer between schools and companies to trust that you know what you are doing when they hire you. Its one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you don’t have it. So what exactly is it, and why is it so important? Let’s find out!

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a big fancy word that simply means a quality check. An accredited school has gone through a rigorous check by an authority on education to make sure the school meets their standards and is qualified to teach students the programs they are offering. A degree from an accredited school is valuable. One from an unaccredited school or program is worthless. That’s why it’s so important to check the accreditation status of your school and make sure it fits your needs and expectations before spending your time and money.

Accreditation by these governing bodies gives students, schools, and all interested in the diploma earned from that school, the peace of mind that the program is legitimate and that they’re not being scammed or taken advantage of. It also ensures that the credits you receive from that school are transferable to another school. If your program doesn’t qualify, or is not recognized by the school you transfer to, your credits might not count towards your degree!

Before giving money to an institution, your first step should always be to make sure that it is properly accredited.


Who Decides Which Schools are Accredited?

The top level of accreditation is done by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). The USDE uses a rigorous process to assess national and regional accreditors. These accreditation associations then go out and assess colleges for quality and legitimacy. Each college or university must do this at least once every five years. The USDE only keeps records of accredited schools, but it doesn’t perform the accreditation checks on, or award credentials, to individual schools.

The Nightmare of Fake Degrees

In addition to the USDE, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also accredits accreditors. Their site is also a great resource for checking the legitimacy of schools.

Regional versus National Accreditation

Accreditation comes in two main forms: regional and national level. Knowing the difference between them is extremely important for students to understand. The reason has to do with the credit transfers.

Credits from nationally accredited schools are (generally) not accepted by regionally accredited ones. Also, while credits earned at regionally accredited schools will definitely transfer within their region, they don’t always transfer between different regions. This is very important to know if you have any intention of transferring credits between schools.

Be sure to investigate the particulars of your situation! Talk to the schools you’ve attended and wish to attend to find out what kind of accreditation they have. Make sure the accreditor is legitimate and appropriate for your academic goals. Otherwise, you could waste valuable time and money. Below is a rundown of the two kinds of accreditation to help you:

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is split into six geographic regions across the U.S. Those include:

  • MSA (Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools)
  • NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges)
  • NCA (North Central Association of Colleges and Schools)
  • NAC (Northwest Accreditation Commission)
  • SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools)
  • WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges)

Each of these regional accreditation organizations are recognized by the USDE and CHEA. Regional accreditation is a highly regarded and recognized type of accreditation.

It’s a higher tier accreditation than national accreditation. Because of this, credits from a regionally accredited school typically transfer to nationally accredited schools, but not vice versa.

According to the USDE, 85 percent of schools in the U.S. are regionally accredited. That should provide plenty of options! Degrees and credits from regionally accredited schools are highly transferable and respected by employers.

National Accreditation

National accreditation agencies recognized by the USDE and CHEA include:

  • Distance Education & Training Council (DETC)
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS)
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

National accreditation is most often associated with trade, vocational, and career schools. Some Nursing programs will fall under this type as well.

Checking to make sure a school is accredited is the most important way you can protect yourself from scams. It takes an extra step or two to make sure a school is accredited and accredited by a legitimate accreditor, but it can save you a lot of pain and financial loss.

We’ll be coming back to this topic in future articles, so be sure to continue to check out our blog or sign up for our email list to get great resources. You can also keep in mind that all Abound schools are accredited and meet our standards of excellence.


More Helpful Resources:

Getting College Credit for Life Experience You Already Have

Beating the Confidence Gap and Earning Your Degree

What’s Your Education Style? Let’s Decode the Terms

3 Reasons Why Earning a Degree Will Advance Your Career and Improve Your Life


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