Why Accreditation is Important
Accreditation provides certain functions within the education community. Since the US does not have a single governing body responsible for assessing each university and education program in the country, accreditation agencies serve to keep the standards of learning programs in check.
According to the Department of Education, accreditation serves to:
- Verify that institutions meet standards. By requiring protocol and procedures, you can be assured that any school that is accredited offers quality education.
- Help students identify quality institutions. You need a reliable source to tell you if a school is worthy of your tuition dollars. Accreditation agencies serve that purpose.
- Assist institutions in determining if transfer credits are acceptable. If all schools meet the same standards, then course credits are comparable and can be transferred.
- Identify institutions and programs for the investment of public and private funds. Funding entities can invest their dollars in quality schools with the help of agencies of accreditation.
- Encourage improvement of standards for institutions and programs. Working with an accrediting agency gives schools motivation to continually improve their programs.
- Create criteria for professional certification and licensure. Schools can upgrade their curricula to better prepare students for certification and licensing.
- Accrediting agencies serve as watchdogs of education. Students, employers, investors and educational institutes can rely on these agencies to provide accurate information on degree programs and schools.
It doesn’t really matter if a school is accredited or not. It does matter. Not only will an accredited school guarantee you will get a solid education, it ensures you will be able to transfer credits to other schools, get financial aid and be eligible for jobs.
As long as the school is accredited, I’m fine. All accreditations are not equal. There are scams called accreditation mills that have low standards for accreditation, and actually sell accreditations rather than assessing a school based on merit. If you attend one of these schools, you may be just as bad off, if not worse than, if you had attended a non-accredited school.
Non-accredited schools are more affordable. While the cost may be cheaper for non-accredited schools, you will pay dearly in the long run. Once you enroll, you will find that you’re not eligible for financial aid, which means tuition comes from your pocket. If an employer shuts the door in your face because your education wasn’t accredited, you may find it difficult to gain employment in the field you want. If you can’t transfer course credit, you will have to take the same course at an accredited institution.
Steer Clear of Non-Accredited Schools
“What’s the big deal? Why does a school have to be accredited? It’s cheaper to attend a non-accredited school!”
Your future may depend on whether or not you attend an accredited school. You may miss out on getting the quality training and education you deserve.
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Additionally, non-accredited schools:
- May not have credits eligible for transfer to other schools. Accredited degree programs only accept credit from other accredited programs, so taking courses at a non-accredited school will waste both your time and money.
- Do not qualify for financial aid. The federal government does not approve student aid and loans to schools that are not accredited. If you attend one of these schools, the tuition will come out of your pocket.
- May cost you a job. Employers today care where you’ve gone to school. While they may not require you to be a Harvard graduate, they may shut the door in your face if they find that your degree was from a non-accredited institution.
- May be a degree mill. If the school isn’t accredited, it means it couldn’t meet the standards required by accrediting agencies. Before sending your money, make sure you’re not getting scammed.
Non-accredited schools will cost you time, money, and even your career. You are shortchanged from receiving the excellent education that you have paid for.
Finding the Type of Accreditation that is Right for You
So now you know all about accreditation. But what do you need to look for? How do you know if a school is properly accredited?
There are two types of accreditation:
Looks at the entire college or university to ensure it meets certain educational standards.
Examines a specific department or program to make sure it meets industry standards.
But it doesn’t end there. Accreditation can also be broken down into:
The U.S. Department of Education formally recognizes several national accrediting agencies using the exact same criteria for recognition that they employ in recognizing regional accrediting groups. It is important to note that academic credits from some nationally accredited schools are not universally transferrable to regionally accredited colleges. If transfer of credit is one of your goals, be sure to check with the receiving colleges you plan to transfer to be sure they accept the credits from the nationally accredited school. Each university reserves the right to accept and reject credits from other institutions. There is no fundamental difference in accrediting agency approaches. National accredited institutions tend to be more career focused in the institutions and programs they work with, they feature outcomes assessment data for each institution, include more of a hands on approach and they concentrate on preparing students with salable skills for the world of work.
Regionally accreditation is also institutional in nature, and is the traditional source of accreditation for colleges and universities. The focus of institutions accredited by the regional agencies is on traditional academics, and their degree programs tend to include more academic areas of study, such as the Humanities and the Arts, as opposed to career or job preparation studies. Academic credits are more easily transferred between regionally accredited colleges.