Why Accreditation Matters
The purpose of accreditation is simple: to measure educational excellence, spearhead quality assurance,
and ensure pre-determined standards are maintained. Quality higher education remains a critical component
of future career success; however, understanding the different types of accreditation and knowing which
accrediting commissions are reputable can be confusing. This comprehensive guide will help students understand
why accreditation matters, how it works, who provides accreditation, and how online education fits within the framework.
Why Should I Care About Accreditation?
Attending an accredited institution or program makes a significant difference for students in a number of ways.
In addition to upholding educational quality and ensuring high standards are maintained, accreditation means students will:
- Have access to federal financial aid
- Have greater ease in transferring existing college credits
- Rest assured that their education will be led by qualified faculty
- Know their degree will be recognised by employers
Selecting an accredited college or university truly makes a difference to students.
What happens if a college isn’t accredited?
As of 2013, 57 percent of undergraduates received some form of federal financial aid; however, this type of funding is only
available to students enrolled in institutions accredited by an agency that is recognised by the Department of Education.
This is also true of many state loans. Students who select a school without proper accreditation will have greatly limited financial aid options.
While an institution has the final say on whether or not to allow students to transfer existing credits, the likelihood of those
credits being accepted is greatly reduced if they were earned at an unaccredited college. This will likely result in the transferring
student being required to retake certain courses. If a student is considering attending a community college for his/her first two years,
it is worthwhile to contact prospective four-year programs to assure courses will transfer.
Quality of Education
Accreditation works as a stamp of approval, ensuring educational rigor and excellence are maintained on an institutional and/or
programmatic level. If a college is not accredited, quality of education may not be on par with similar institutions. While lack of
accreditation could be due to a program being new or currently undergoing the process, for others it could be a sign that the quality of education is subpar.
According to a study by the Journal of Education for Business, faculty of unaccredited schools are paid less, publish less, and teach
more than their peers at accredited institutions, leading to a lower level of passion and engagement with their subject. Additionally,
academic staff at these schools will not be required to maintain the same standards of discipline knowledge or continued professional
development as accredited institutions, meaning their awareness of their subject and ability to teach students could lag.
Whether regional or specialized accreditation will affect a student’s ability to gain employment in their field should be researched thoroughly.
When competing with other graduates of similar programs, proper accreditation can make the difference between one candidate and another.
Accreditation may not be a job requirement, but employers may feel more confident hiring an applicant who graduated from an accredited college.
Two main types of accreditation exist: institutional and specialized (sometimes called programmatic). Within institutional accreditation, there are
significant differences between schools accredited by a national commission versus those accredited by a regional agency. Read on to learn about the
differences and what to consider when selecting a school with specific types of accreditation.
How Does Accreditation Work?
Higher education institutions and programs seeking accreditation must undergo a long and thorough process to be recognized by a respected accrediting body.
Often, the school must complete a series of requirements before even starting the accreditation process. Depending on the size of the university, individual
requirements of the commission, and any need for revisions, the process can take anywhere from 1-3 years. The following outlines the individual steps necessary to
become fully accredited.
Higher education institutions and programs seeking accreditation must undergo a long and thorough process to be recognized by a respected accrediting body. Often, the school must complete a series of requirements before even starting the accreditation process. Depending on the size of the university, individual requirements of the commission, and any need for revisions, the process can take anywhere from 1-3 years. The following outlines the individual steps necessary to become fully accredited.
1. Meet Criteria
3. On-Site Evaluation
5. Maintaining Accreditation
1. Meet Criteria While each accrediting body has developed their own set of criteria for accrediting a school, a good example is the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which uses different measurements to assess candidacy. The categories include: mission; ethical and responsible conduct; quality, resources and support; evaluation and improvement; and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness. Accrediting bodies list individualized requirements and most schools will begin reviewing this document long before ever applying for accreditation.
2. Self-Evaluation The next step in the process is a self-evaluation that the institution seeking accreditation must complete. This involves an in-depth study identifying how the institution sees itself measuring up against the established standards required by the accreditation commission. This undertaking engages many different areas of the college, ranging from faculty, senior leadership, and the governing board. Most accreditation commissions require interested institutions to attend an accreditation workshop before undertaking the study.
3. On-Site Evaluation After the accrediting agency has reviewed the school’s self-evaluation, a team compiled by the agency will be visit the school (or program) to assess first-hand if the institution does indeed meet the established standards. In addition to members of the accrediting agency, this team will likely also comprise peer reviewers or other members of the public with a background in assessing quality standards.
4. Publication If the accreditation commission rules that a school has satisfied all of the requirements and criteria, the agency will award the institution accreditation or pre-accreditation status. From there, the school or program will be listed on the commission’s list of approved institutions, though sometimes those in the pre-accreditation phase may be listed separate from those with full accreditation status. Schools can advertise their pre-accreditation certification, as they will more than likely become fully accredited in the near future.
5. Maintaining Accreditation Accrediting commissions are tasked with monitoring all of the entities accredited throughout their entire period of holding the accredited status. This process ensures that all schools and programs are continuing to meet the commission’s standards.
6. Reevaluation While a school or program will always be monitored, those receiving accreditation will also be asked to undergo a continuous review process, ranging from every few years to every 10 years. This process will evaluate if the accredited or pre-accredited status can still be awarded to the entity. Generally, the school or program under reevaluation will be required to go through all of the same steps as the initial process. This high level of quality assurance has a two-fold purpose: keeping the university accountable to standards and assuring students and potential employers that the educational standards are being maintained.
What’s The Process For Accredited Online Colleges?
Online programs offered via brick-and-mortar institutions will be evaluated against the same set of criteria used to assess classroom-based courses. For instance, if a university is regionally accredited for its on campus classes, online offerings will carry the same type of accreditation. This is especially useful for students wishing to transfer credits gained online to another university.
This also holds true for institutions receiving national accreditation, though frequently the online programs at these schools will seek further accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) to add an additional level of legitimacy. DEAC first received recognition by the Department of Education as reputable accreditation commission in 1959. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation also recognized it in 1996. Schools approved by the DEAC must satisfy the same set of standards required by regional accreditors. Evaluation of online colleges is divided into 12 topics, including mission and objectives; educational program objectives, curricula and materials; educational services; student support services; student achievement and satisfaction; qualifications of administration and faculty; admissions; advertisement and recruitment; financial responsibility; tuition policies; facilities and equipment; and research and self-improvement.