Learn About Nationally Accredited Colleges  Regional vs National & Why it Matters

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Zach Rinkins Read bio

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Shannon Lee Read bio

Accreditation means a school has been evaluated by an accrediting body and meets the rigorous standards of a high-quality education. The credential a person earns from an accredited school is typically valued and recognized by employers and other schools. Accreditation serves as a powerful way to ensure the student is not attending a “diploma mill” or similar scam institution.

Accrediting bodies, whether regional, national or specialized, should be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Specialized accreditation involved specialized programs, but what’s the difference between regional and national accreditation? Does one matter more than the other? What does it mean for someone looking for the best possible educational path? Here’s what students need to know about accreditation.

What is National Accreditation?

When a student begins looking at colleges, one of the most important pieces of advice to heed is to check the school’s accreditation. Regional accreditation means the school has been vetted by an independent body and found to meet the high standards of a quality education. In addition to regional accreditation, there is also national accreditation. It’s entirely different, but in some cases, just as important. Here’s what students need to know about national accreditation.

  • How does accreditation work?

    “Schools have to get permission from various accrediting bodies before they can issue academic degrees,” said Zach Rinkins, college and career expert and author of “I Am College Material! Your Guide to Unlimited College, Career, and Life Success.” He continued, “The accrediting body verifies that the institution is operating with best practices and has modern education, faculty support and other protocols. It also requires that instructors have graduate degrees from accredited programs. It also ensures the school meets state, regional and/or national compliance requirements.”

  • What’s the difference between national and regional accreditation?

    “Whether or not a school secures national or regional accreditation depends on the institution’s priorities and operations model,” Rinkins said. For instance, many national accrediting bodies focus on schools that contain programs that aren’t typically found in a traditional college or university. A good example is the Association of Institution of Jewish Studies. This accrediting body, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, provides accreditation only to those schools that have at least one program focused on Jewish studies or degrees.

  • Should a student attend a nationally accredited school?

    That depends on what the student’s goals are. If a student is looking into a program that can only be found in a school that is nationally accredited, then they should certainly consider that school. However, if the student is hoping to eventually transfer credits from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited one, that might not always work out. They should also take into account whether they can move forward with their career goals if they choose a nationally accredited school.

    For instance, let’s say someone wants to go to a law school that’s nationally accredited. That’s not good enough – in order to sit for the bar, law students must attend a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Students should examine their career goals, think about where they want to be a decade from now, and ask themselves if a particular school is the best one for them, based on their personal needs and career path.

Why National Accreditation is Important

For some students, regional accreditation is the only issue they need to worry about. But for others, national accreditation definitely matters. This is especially true if students are looking for a particular program of study that they simply can’t find at a typical college or university. For instance, a student considering attending a school accredited by the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools is likely looking for a program that simply isn’t available in a traditionally regional accredited school. For those students, national accreditation is vitally important.

It also matters when it comes to paying for that college education. “National accreditation is particularly important because it is connected to Department of Education recognition and funding (e.g. federal financial aid and subsidized student loans),” Rinkins said. “If a school loses its accreditation, it loses Education Department recognition and often closes. It is very difficult for schools to continue without federal recognition.”

Employers also care a great deal about accreditation. In some cases, choosing to attend a school that is not appropriately accredited can have long-lasting negative consequences. “Most employers and accredited graduate schools do not recognize non accredited diplomas,” Rinkins said. “In fact, I once worked with a colleague who earned a Ph.D. Their peers would never call them doctor and they didn’t get a commensurate salary. I later learned it was because they earned their doctorate degree from an unaccredited program.”

National Accreditation Agencies

What Types of Schools are Nationally Accredited?

Nationally accredited schools tend to be more narrowly focused than schools with regional accreditation, and focusing more heavily on a particular type of education. Vocational, career and technical schools often fall under national accreditation. So do religious schools, or those that have a limited focus, such as hospitality. In most cases, these schools are for-profit.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a nationally accredited school:

  1. Transferring Schools

    In many cases, nationally accredited agencies will accept transfer credits from other nationally accredited agencies as well as regionally accredited agencies. However, some regionally accredited schools will be hesitant to accept credits from nationally recognized schools, and might reject them altogether. This is because many schools consider nationally accredited schools to be held to less stringent standards than those that are regionally accredited, and there is the fear that students haven’t received a rigorous education that is on a par with what they would have received if they had enrolled at a regionally accredited university or college.

  2. Employer Perceptions

    In many cases, the employers who will look over a graduate’s resume will see a nationally accredited, targeted program that has prepared them for the job they want to work in. But there are some employers out there who still see regional accreditation as the “gold standard” even if the degree a person has earned through the nationally accredited institution is right on target. Given this, some students might face hard questions about the rigor of their academics, and should be prepared for that going into a job interview. Fortunately, the good reasons for choosing national accreditation are easy to enumerate and can often sway an employer to see the bigger picture.

  3. Financial Aid Options

    It is important to remember that only schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education are eligible for federal loans, grants, and other financial help through the government. A student should always review a potential school for their accreditation status, but then take it a step further and ensure that particular accrediting body is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Only then can a student know for sure that they might be eligible for financial aid through the government. To check accreditation status, go to the U.S. Department of Education Agency List.

  1. Online Program Accreditation

    In most cases, national accrediting agencies will accredit a school that has online programs, provided that the school meets certain requirements for not only the online program, but for the overall school as well. For instance, a school might have the online programs accredited only if they meet a certain percentage of traditional on-campus students enrolled, such as 25 percent of students in the brick-and-mortar school. In short, as long as an online program comes from a traditional school, accreditation is possible. Those schools who offer the vast majority of their programs online can look to specialized accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council.

  2. Hurdles with National Accreditation

    When it comes to career aspirations, students must understand the differences in accreditation and look at the long run, or they might run into hurdles they didn’t expect. That’s because some students will need to attend a school that has earned programmatic accreditation for a particular program, something which is quite usual for a nationally accredited school.

    For instance, in order to enter a particular job as a dental hygienist, applicants might only be accepted for consideration if they graduated from a program accredited by the American Dental Association. But if the school attended has national accreditation rather than regional, the ADA might choose not to accept the program. This puts students in a bind, as they have earned the credits and graduated, but the lack of accreditation could narrow their employment prospects.

    On the other hand, students should go into their programs with an informed view of what accreditation they have, what requirements must be met, and whether that program will be a good fit for their future career endeavors.