• De-Mystifying Accreditation: What it all Means

    Accreditation is the formal process by which colleges and universities substantiate their position as a credible and authoritative provider of higher education to the public. Institutions seeking accreditation may do so through an Accredited Certification Body which must itself be accredited. Accreditation may be issued nationally or regionally.

    Regional accreditation may be issued by one of six separate regional certifying bodies that have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regional certifying bodies include the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS), Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU), Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA), and the Northern Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA). These regional certification bodies oversee the accreditation process for all higher education institutions falling within their respective states and territories.

    National accreditation may be obtained by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC). Regionally accredited campuses do not accept DETC credits and employers have been known to be leery of hiring those that have obtained degrees or certification from DETC accredited educational institutions.

    Under certain circumstances, special accreditation may be issued. This type of accreditation is also known as program-based accreditation. The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology credits engineering programs, regardless of the university that houses the program. Other examples of special accreditation include the American Medical Association (AMA) which oversees medical education programs, American Dental Association (ADA) which maintains oversight of dental education, and the American Bar Association (ABA) which credits qualifying law schools.

    It is important to make sure the program you choose will enable you to transfer credits to other institutions. While nationally accredited colleges and universities are often less expensive than their regionally accredited peers, some of these programs may not be recognized by other universities. Conversely, nationally certified institutions will generally accept credits from a regionally certified program.

    The U.S. Department of Education maintains oversight of all accrediting bodies within the United States. If any questions arise about the nature of a particular institution's accreditation, a quick search on the USDE website will generally help resolve the matter. Whatever route you choose, be sure to do your research. If you are considering enrolling in a school, ask for their certifying body, verify with the certifying body itself, and finally check the status with the USDE.

    Also, be sure to look into available scholarships and financial aid if you believe a regionally accredited school will be the right choice but may be just out of reach. There are billions of dollars in scholarships that go to waste each year simply because they are not applied for or claimed. Focus on your educational needs and the right fit for you. Keep potential future educational requirements in mind as well, as developing your educational background may be desirable in the future.

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