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Online College Accreditation in Plain English

Accredited college

Online College Accreditation in Plain English

Many online colleges and universities boast that they are accredited. By now you’ve probably heard or read the term enough to know that you should choose an accredited college. However, maybe you’re not sure what accreditation means or why it is so important. Don’t worry—this academic lingo can be broken down into plain English.

What is accreditation?

College accreditation is an acknowledgment that the college and the courses and degrees it provides are approved and meet certain requirements and standards set forth by accreditation boards. Online schools are reviewed for quality by such organizations as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE), and helps ensure that you are going to receive a quality education. Without accreditation, the degree you obtain from your college might not be worth much more than the paper it is printed on.

What kind of accreditation is out there?

Accrediting agencies fall into two major categories: institutional and programmatic. There are just under twenty institutional accrediting organizations in the United States that accredit colleges and universities and approximately sixty programmatic organizations that accredit specific programs. These two groups can be broken down into four subcategories:

  • Regional Accrediting Organizations
  • National Faith-Related Organizations
  • National Career-Related Organizations
  • Programmatic Accrediting Organizations

Regional Accrediting Organizations

These organizations accredit colleges and universities within a designated region of the United States. For example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the recognized regional accrediting organization in eleven Southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia). Regional accreditation applies to the entire institution, not just a particular program.

National Faith-Related Organizations

Just as the name suggests, this type of organization accredits faith-based institutions in the United States. Some accrediting bodies may focus on a particular type of faith-based institution, such as the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools Accreditation Commission, while others—like the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission—have a much broader focus.

National Career-Related Organizations

There are accrediting organizations that concentrate on a particular type of career. Two examples include the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, Inc., and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. One would focus on any schools that offer cosmetology programs, and the other would focus on health education programs.

Programmatic Accrediting Organizations

There are many accreditors that exist for the sole purpose of giving their stamp of approval on a certain type of program, regardless of the type of institution or its location. These organizations check the quality of programs such as Marriage and Family Therapy, Pharmacy Education, Aviation, Engineering and Technology, and Landscape Architecture. Because of the fine scope of each programmatic accrediting organizations, there are many more of these—more than the other three categories combined.

Due to the diverse offerings of higher education institutions, a one-type-of-accreditation-fits-all would not be enough to adequately address the quality of each institution’s various programs. If the school you have chosen has not been accredited by one of the accrediting organizations recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE), you should be very careful. The school could potentially be considered a diploma mill or an unofficial school that will hand you a degree that will not carry any value.

Are all colleges accredited?

It is important to note that online schools are not required to be accredited, which paves the way for so many online diploma mills, scams, and questionable practices by some institutions. However, many online colleges have sought out accreditation on their own accord by contacting independent accreditation agencies to obtain approval. In plain English, this means they are willing to put their name on the line in order to be reviewed by the standards and quality expected by accreditation boards.

How does accreditation affect me?

So how does online accreditation affect your online college experience? It provides students the same privileges to proper admissions practices, course registration processes, opportunities to receive financial aid or other assistance, as well as other student services. Ultimately, accreditation means that you can be confident that you are receiving a quality education that will be respected by future employers.

Is it enough for an institution to claim that it is accredited?

Just as there are many legitimate online colleges, there are also schools who try to cut corners. Some even advertise that they are indeed accredited when the association who has given the school its seal of approval is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as legitimate accreditation organizations. So don’t believe everything you read—these so-called accredited institutions will be a waste of your time and money. Be careful.

eople often forget that furthering one’s education is a valuable investment. In any type of investment, you want to make sure that you place your resources in a reliable, credible product or service, right? When allocating time and money for your education, you should choose an accredited online school for the same purpose. Here are just a few reasons why college accreditation should matter to you.

Employment opportunities

One of the most popular reasons for individuals to seek online education is to gain knowledge that will improve employment prospects. Whether the desire is to learn a new skill, take a refresher course in a current field, or attain an advanced degree, more knowledge means improved career opportunities. While earning a degree brings personal satisfaction, the benefits of such an achievement is also recognized by current or potential employers. For this reason, many employers check not only previous work experience, but the educational history of applicants, including the credibility of your school. A degree from an unaccredited or questionable university can hurt an applicant’s chances of obtaining employment.

Financial aid or assistance

If you are returning to school and have a low-paying job, bills, and a family to support, you might need financial assistance. In order to obtain financial aid, you must attend an accredited school. Only accredited schools can provide students with financial aid or assistance and are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE).

Overall online education experience

Accreditation is a type of acknowledgment that the college and the courses and degrees it provides meet certain requirements and standards set forth by accreditation boards. This guarantees that you are going to receive a quality education for your investment. Knowing that your school is accredited will give you peace of mind, which will allow you to focus on your coursework—not your institution’s credibility.