Learn More About Accredited Schools & Colleges
Welcome to AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org, the most comprehensive resource for learning about school accreditation and for finding accredited traditional and online programs that best meet your needs. Here you’ll find all you need to know about how school accreditation works in the United States, the different types of college accreditation, and the process schools undergo to become accredited. You can also search our extensive database of accredited traditional and online degree programs to find a match that’s right for you. Whether you’re searching for an accredited school by geography, major, type of degree, or type of accrediting agency, you’ll find what you need on AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org.
What is an Accredited School?
Accredited traditional and online schools have received an official stamp of approval that’s recognized by other schools, employers, and the government. Independent accrediting agencies review schools to ensure they meet quality academic standards on an ongoing basis and have the financial resources to meet these standards. Accreditation exists for all types of educational institutions from vocational schools to degree-granting universities. Attending an accredited school is just as important for a student considering training in sonography as it is for someone selecting a law school.
Importance of Accreditation
It’s important to ensure a school you’re considering attending is accredited. Online degree program accreditation is particularly important, as there are many so-called “diploma mills” more interested in making a profit than in educating students. The consequences of selecting a non-accredited degree or program can be significant.
Most American employers only hire job candidates who’ve graduated from accredited schools. Accredited colleges will not accept credits from non-accredited institutions, so if you want to transfer or obtain a higher degree and you’re at a non-accredited college, you might be rejected. And, very importantly, only accredited schools and universities qualify for federal financial aid funds.
Types of Accreditation
There are two basic types of traditional and online college accreditation in the U.S.: institutional, and specialized or programmatic. Institutional accreditation covers the school or university and all its programs. It accredits the school as a whole. Institutional accreditation is handled on a regional basis in the United States. There is no national entity that awards institutional accreditation, although many programmatic accreditation agencies do operate on a national scope.
In addition, programs, departments, or schools within an accredited institution can earn specialized accreditation. For example, a college in Connecticut will be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), while its MBA program will also be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). A school may, therefore, have several accreditations.
The states of New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania also require some type of accreditation by their state education boards in addition to any regional and specialized accreditation a school receives.
Online Degree Program Accreditation
The Distance Education and Training Council is the only DOE- and CHEA-recognized agency for accrediting schools whose offerings are delivered fully online. Online programs offered by traditional brick and mortar colleges, however, are accredited through the broader institutional accreditation process. When reviewing online programs, accrediting agencies apply the same rigorous standards as those they apply to classroom-based programs.
There may be, however, a few requirements that apply solely to online programs. For example, the institution may be asked be able to verify that the student who registers for the program is the same student who participates and completes the program. An accreditation agency may require an institution to have a written procedure for protecting the privacy of students enrolled in distance education programs. The agency may also require the school to provide notification, in writing and at the time of registration, of any projected additional student charges associated with student identity verification.
While numerous accreditation agencies exist in the U.S., not all are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). A school must be accredited by a DOE-recognized agency to be eligible for federal financial aid funds.
CHEA is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities that advocate for academic quality and review and recognize accrediting organizations. Recognition by CHEA affirms that the standards and processes of the accrediting organization are consistent with the academic quality, improvement and accountability expectations that CHEA has established.
There are 15 regional, four state and 40 specialized agencies in six categories recognized by the DOE. CHEA recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.
The primary regional accreditation agencies that conduct institutional accreditations are:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges
Traditional and online schools are accredited by independent agencies that evaluate a school’s ability to provide a quality education. The accreditation process is usually rigorous and can take as long as two years.
Accreditation agencies establish a set of standards for the institutions and/or program they accredit. A typical accreditation process will include:
Institutional Self-study: The institution or program undergoes an in-depth self-evaluation study and creates a report that measures its performance against the accrediting agency’s standards.
On-site Evaluation: A team selected by the accrediting agency visits the institution or program to ensure it meets the established standards.
Publication: The accrediting agency grants accreditation status and lists the institution in an official publication, along with other institutions or programs it accredits.
Monitoring: The accrediting agency monitors each accredited institution or program to ensure it continues to meet the agency’s standards.
Reevaluation: The accrediting agency periodically reevaluates each institution or program in full to ensure its accredited status continues to be warranted.
The Future of School Accreditation
The school accreditation process in the U.S. has changed little during the past 100 years. As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in 2014, lawmakers, college administrators, and accrediting agencies are debating the relevance of a system that’s been in place for more than a century. Changes in education, particularly those brought on by new technologies, such as online learning, are challenging the status quo.