When researching colleges, which criteria are most important to you? Unless you want to spend the next few years working toward a degree only to find that it isn’t recognized by the company that is interviewing you for your dream job, researching the accreditation of your school of choice is imperative. Accreditation lends legitimacy to your degree by ensuring that your school of choice meets a set of standards set forth by the institution that issues such accreditation. Most schools you consider attending will be able to claim that they are accredited, but by who? It is equally important to understand who is issuing the accreditation and what value that accreditation has for you before selecting a school.
An organization that issues accreditation to schools and universities should be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It does not matter if you are planning to get an online computer science degree or visiting a campus only to live in its boarding to get your degree, what’s important is that there are two primary forms of accreditation: national and regional, and both have to be recognized by the DoE. Although it seems a bit counter-intuitive, regional accreditation is the more prestigious of the two. Universities from UCLA to Harvard have obtained this form of institutional accreditation, which is issued by any one of six regional accrediting bodies, listed below. These six bodies each recognize the others accreditation, which is what allows you to transfer your transcript from one university to another.
National accreditation is intended for trade schools, such as vocational, technical, and nursing schools who are able to offer at least an Associate’s degree. The DoE recognizes eight bodies that are able to offer national accreditation, also listed below. According to the CHEA, 65% of nationally accredited schools are not able to issue a recognized degree, so do your research before attending a school with this type of accreditation.
In addition to these two primary forms of accreditation there are several others, such as professional, programmatic, or specialized accreditation, which can be awarded after a standard regional accreditation has been achieved and indicates a level of expertise has been attained in a particular field by the school. Some professional degrees will require that you attend a school with this form of accreditation in order to become a licensed practitioner in your field of study.
Although it’s common for traditional brick-and-mortar schools to have the proper accreditation for the type of education you receive, it can be more difficult to ascertain this information from online schools, many of whom simply advertise that they are accredited without specifying how so. Let’s look at one popular online school, Kaplan University.
Kaplan University cites that they are “accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA),” and instruct you to call them if you need more information. The phone call isn’t necessary. What is necessary is for you to know whether or not the HLC is one of the six bodies that is able to grant a regional accreditation. A quick look at the list below confirms that they are one of those bodies. Now a second check to confirm that they list Kaplan University as an accredited school is in order – and they are. There is wealth of other information that can be found here as well: the university’s home state, CEO, what year they obtained there accreditation, the size of the student body, how many degree programs they offer and which are covered by the accreditation – the list goes on.
Don’t wait to find out that the degree you are working so hard for isn’t from a properly accredited school. Add this important piece of information to your list of criteria to research for the schools you are considering.