The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.
There are several reasons accreditation is important besides assurance of quality and adherence to academic standards. Accreditation determines a school's eligibility for participation in federal (Title IV) and state financial aid programs. Proper accreditation is also important for the acceptance and transfers of college credit, and is a prerequisite for many graduate programs.
The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation in the United States is regional accreditation. Generally, college credits or degrees received at a regionally accredited institution are accepted by other regionally accredited colleges or universities (non-regionally accredited programs are not as accepted). However, this acceptance is not guaranteed; it remains with each institution to establish its own policies based on the determination that the credits accepted meet educational objectives comparable to their own programs.
It is often difficult to find a school's accreditation when visiting their Web site or viewing their catalog or other information. You can find out if the college or university you are interested in is regionally accredited by visiting the regional accrediting board Web site for their area and looking up the institution name.
Who are the regional accrediting agencies?
There are six geographic regions of the United States with an agency that accredits college and university higher education programs:
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
The New England Association of Schools & Colleges.
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
The Northwest Association Of Schools And Colleges.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
What other types of College Accreditation are there?
National and Distance Education and Training Council
The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) maintain directories of nationally recognized and specialized accrediting agencies. Programs that are nationally accredited may not transfer to a regionally accredited college.
Distance Education & Training Council (DETC). The DETC often accredits institutions offering correspondence or other independent study programs. However, programs accredited by the DETC are not as commonly accepted by regionally accredited colleges.
The U.S. Secretary of Education also maintains a database to check institution accreditation and lists approximately 6,900 postsecondary educational institutions and programs, each of which is accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
What is a diploma mill and how do Irecognize one?
According to the Better Business Bureau, many fraudulent schools (better known as diploma mills) are profiting on the popularity of distance learning and are attracting students into their “degree programs”, often with the promises of a quick diploma. These types of institutions have been around for a long time, and use aggressive recruiting techniques (through telemarketing and direct mail), following-up on consumer queries through e-mail or their Web site. These schools heavily promote in print and on the Internet, and often have sophisticated looking Web sites. Marketing representatives take advantage of students lack of knowledge about college accreditation, and use the terms “fully accredited” , “nationally accredited”, or “accredited worldwide” to assure the student of the program's legitimacy. The school's "accreditation" is usually by unrecognized or bogus agencies.
The Better Business Bureau offers several signs to look for to recognize a diploma mill:
- The school advertises degrees that can be earned in less time than at a traditional college. There are legitimate ways to earn college credit through prior learning and collegiate level testing, but the credit offered through these schools does not meet recognized standards set by the American Council on Education and The National Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction the two major college credit recommendation bodies accepted by major colleges and universities. Generally, fully accredited schools will award up to 32 credits through examination and prior learning towards an undergraduate degree, but no reputable schools will award graduate degrees earned mainly through career portfolios.
- The school states that it is accredited, but lists organizations that (although impressive sounding) are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or attempt to show official status by alleging state licensure or registration.
- You earn your "diploma" by tuition paid on a per-degree basis. Traditional colleges charge tuition by credit hours, or by course or semester. The school may offer admission only by securing your credit information, and does not require documentation of academic records.
- The school provides little or no communication with faculty, or the school’s Web site does not provide information on faculty or names faculty who have graduated from unaccredited schools.
- The college's name is similar to a well known university.
- The school provides addresses that are only post office box numbers or suites.
Your college education is one of the most important investments you'll ever make. If unsure of a school's status, check the Better Business Bureau.
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