College Accreditation: What You Need to Know
High school students and their families have a lot of questions about potential colleges. What majors does this school offer? What are the admission requirements? How can I be a competitive applicant? What about institutional financial aid?
The list goes on.
No matter your list of questions, I bet they all boil down to just one: Is this a good school?
Is this a good school? is a subjective question. Everyone will have a different opinion regarding a college’s academic offerings, campus, food, dorms, etc. But if you sweep away the opinions, and you’re left with one essential trait a school must have for it to be good:
The school must be accredited.
Schools without proper accreditation (there are plenty of them in the United States) may not offer students adequate learning outcomes. Also, some employers and graduate schools may not regard degrees from these schools as valid.
In this article, we’ll break down the three types of accreditation in order of importance and relevance to your college search.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) sets academic standards reputable colleges and universities must follow. However, the ED cannot pass judgment on the nation’s approximately 5,300 colleges and universities by itself. To ensure that all college students receive a satisfactory education, ED charters seven regional accreditation agencies. Each agency carries out the same mission in a specific group of states or U.S. territories.
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges – Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Two-year colleges in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
- Higher Learning Commission
- Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands
- New England Commission of Higher Education
- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
- WASC Senior College and University Commission
- Four-year colleges in California
Before you look at majors, dorms, or meal plans, ensure that a school possesses accreditation from one of these agencies. That’s your #1 priority.
myKlovr takes the guesswork out of regional accreditation when recommending schools to users. Each of the colleges and universities we feature is regionally accredited.
Schools with national accreditation differ from those with regional accreditation in many ways:
- Typical schools do not hire full-time faculty.
- There may not be a library or other student services.
- They are for-profit institutions answering to investors.
- Their students may not qualify for some financial aid programs.
- They focus on technical and career education.
- They award credit that may not transfer to a regionally accredited school.
These differences put nationally accredited schools in a bad light. Yes, there have been controversies regarding shady national accreditation agencies accrediting substandard schools.
Prospective online college students should attend a school possessing national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC ensures that online learners receive the same educational experience as their on-campus peers. And although DEAC is a national accreditation agency, it follows regional accreditation standards when making evaluations.
Programmatic accreditation agencies specialize in one academic subject, such as nursing, engineering, business, or theology. Academic departments pursue programmatic accreditation to improve their brand and increase enrollment.
One thing to note about programmatic accreditation agencies is that many evaluate only graduate programs. An undergraduate program without programmatic accreditation may not indicate anything negative about its quality.
Accreditation is a complicated business. However, if all the colleges on your shortlist possess regional accreditation, you’re 99% good to go. The final 1% involves online learners checking DEAC accreditation status and graduate students researching programmatic accreditation.