What Is National Accreditation?

Erin TrederASO Staff Writers
Updated September 20, 2023
Edited by
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When a college is accredited, it means that an independent agency has assessed the school to ensure it meets specific quality standards. It’s important you check for accreditation when researching colleges because it indicates the school can prepare students for success in their chosen fields.

One type of accreditation you’ll come across is national accreditation. But what is national accreditation, and how does it differ from regional accreditation?

How Does National Accreditation Work?

National accreditation is when an agency accredits an entire institution. This is different from programmatic accreditation, which targets individual academic programs within a school.

National accrediting agencies accredit schools across the U.S. in specific categories, including religious and vocational institutions. Many nationally accredited schools are for-profit institutions.

A legitimate national accreditor will be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Some national accreditors may not be recognized by CHEA or ED. Currently, CHEA and ED recognize 11 national accreditors.

National vs. Regional Accreditation: How Do They Differ?

Historically, regional accreditation, which is older and more prevalent than national accreditation, has been considered the better of the two. This is because regional accreditation tends to involve a more stringent assessment of schools.

Regional accreditors used to be limited to schools in specific regions, but ED eliminated geographical boundaries for regional accreditors in 2020. As a result, both regional and national accreditors — now together called “institutional accreditors” — can accredit schools across the U.S.

Even with these changes, national and regional accreditation still have a few major differences:

Accreditation Type Comparison
National AccreditationRegional Accreditation
  • National accrediting agencies operate throughout the U.S.
  • Credits can likely only be transferred to other nationally accredited schools.
  • National accreditors usually accredit for-profit schools, trade and vocational schools, and religious schools.
  • Regional accrediting agencies tend to focus on specific regions.
  • Credits are more widely accepted and easily transferable.
  • Regional accreditors usually accredit public and private nonprofit colleges and universities.

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List of National Accreditation Agencies

The following list of national accreditors provides more information about each agency, including whether it’s recognized by CHEA or ED (or both).

Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schoolsarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

ABHES accredits schools specializing in allied health programs. Widely respected organizations, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants and the American Medical Technologists, recognize ABHES, which has been accrediting health schools and programs for nearly 60 years.

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Collegesarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

ACCSC targets both degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions that focus on trades, vocational training, and technical education. Currently, ACCSC is the accreditor of over 650 schools in the U.S.

Trade and vocational programs are designed to train students for careers requiring specialized manual and technical skills.

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Trainingarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

Established in 1974, ACCET evaluates schools that provide opportunities for non-credit training and education. This includes schools offering certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs, as well as continuing education.

Schools that offer bachelor’s degrees are not eligible for ACCET accreditation. Only institutions that have been operating for at least the past two years are eligible for accreditation.

Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools

Recognized by ED and CHEA

Recognized in 2011 as an accrediting body for bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, First Rabbinic, and First Talmudic degrees, AARTS is both a historical authority and gatekeeper of traditional Rabbinical learning. The nonprofit consists of several experts in Rabbinical and Talmudic training.

Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditationarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED and CHEA

ABHE accredits biblical higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada. Accreditation requirements include a school mission that aligns with Chrisitanity’s core principles, adequate facilities and student resources, and mandatory Bible-centered courses for students.

All ABHE Commission on Accreditation members are volunteers.

Association of Institutions of Jewish Studiesarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

Recognized as a national accrediting agency since 2016, AIJS targets institutions that offer certificates and undergraduate degrees in Jewish studies and classical Torah studies.

Schools must offer one or more programs in Jewish studies, in addition to meeting other eligibility requirements, before qualifying for AIJS accreditation.

The Association of Theological Schools Commission on Accreditingarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED and CHEA

ATS Commission on Accrediting accredits more than 270 graduate schools in the U.S. and Canada. Schools must prepare students to practice ministry, teach and research in theological disciplines, or pursue other church-related professions.

The group’s mission is to improve and enhance theological schools to benefit communities of faith and the general public.

Council on Occupational Educationarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

COE has been accrediting postsecondary occupational institutions since 1971. Career and technical schools that are licensed to operate as postsecondary institutions and meet certain other criteria are eligible to apply for COE accreditation.

At present, COE is the accreditor of over 500 institutions.

Distance Education Accrediting Commissionarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED and CHEA

DEAC has been evaluating undergraduate and graduate programs for nearly a century. The commission, which began as an accreditor of correspondence courses, focuses on accrediting online programs.

A prospective school must deliver a minimum of 51% of its programs via distance learning in order to be eligible for accreditation.

National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciencesarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED

Founded in 1969, NACCAS accredits schools and departments specializing in cosmetology arts and sciences. The agency has accredited over 1,200 institutions and more than 30 programs of study.

Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commissionarrow-circle-right

Recognized by ED and CHEA

Founded in 1979, TRACS accredits seminaries and colleges offering a Christian education.

When accrediting institutions, the nonprofit looks at both the functional aspects of the school — including its curriculum, student services, and faculty — and the strength of its biblical foundation and Christian educational philosophy.

Does National Accreditation Matter?

If you’re looking for a particular program of study that isn’t offered at a typical four-year college or university, national accreditation is key to ensuring both academic quality and your eligibility for federal financial aid.

Many specialized programs, especially those focusing on religion or a trade, aren’t available at regionally accredited universities.

For example, if you wanted to attend a trade school to become an electrician, you likely won’t find many that are regionally accredited. Instead, you should look for a trade school that’s accredited by a national accrediting agency, like ACCSC or COE.

Accreditation also matters when it comes to paying for your 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),” said Zach Rinkins, college and career expert and author of “I Am College Material! Your Guide to Unlimited College, Career, and Life Success.”

“If a school loses its accreditation, it loses Education Department recognition and often closes,” Rinkins added.

Many employers also care a great deal about accreditation. In some cases, choosing to attend an unaccredited school can have long-lasting negative consequences.

“Most employers and accredited graduate schools do not recognize non-accredited diplomas,” said Rinkins. “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 doctoral degree from an unaccredited program.”

3 Things to Keep in Mind if You Attend a Nationally Accredited School

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a nationally accredited school.

  1. 1

    Regionally Accredited Schools May Not Accept Your Transfer Credits

    In many cases, nationally accredited schools will accept transfer credits from other nationally accredited schools and from regionally accredited schools.

    However, some regionally accredited schools may hesitate to accept credits from nationally accredited schools — and some may reject them altogether. This is because many institutions consider nationally accredited schools to be held to less stringent standards than regionally accredited schools.

  2. 2

    Employers May Prefer Regional Accreditation

    In many cases, employers will simply look over your resume and be happy to see a targeted academic program that’s prepared you for the job you want.

    But some employers out there still see regional accreditation as the gold standard, even if the degree a person earned through a nationally accredited institution perfectly suits their career aspirations.

    Before a job interview, be prepared to answer any questions about the rigor of your academics and to explain how your program adequately prepared you for the field you wish to work in.

  3. 3

    Make Sure Your School Qualifies for Federal Financial Aid

    Only schools accredited by an agency recognized by ED are eligible for federal loans, grants, and other government aid.

    Be sure to confirm any potential schools’ accreditation status before you apply. All of the national accrediting agencies listed above are eligible for federal aid.

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