In the U.S., post-secondary education is not monitored by any specific agency or cabinet. Because of this, accreditation was created so that the quality of education being received by students attending colleges and universities was more transparent. When choosing a degree program, one important factor to consider is to check which agencies have accredited the school or the program in which you are interested. Visit the school’s website and look for the accreditation symbols. Most colleges will have a page devoted to accreditation but if you are still not satisfied, contact the issuing authority to find out more information. Even though accreditation may not seem the likely place to begin when investigating your college, it is a reliable starting point of an indication of the institution’s academic offerings and to decide whether it’s the best investment of your money and time.
So, how does a program get accredited? In short, schools applying for accreditation must provide the following information in order to be considered. They must provide a clear mission statement along with the program outlines and curriculum. Information on the methods of instruction and testing materials have to be mentioned with the necessary study instructions and learning resources. There has to be evidence of proper record keeping and regular student surveys in addition to faculty and administration background information. Only once all this paper work is submitted to the concerned body and approved, can a program receive accreditation. It is obvious then that becoming accredited is a rigorous process and programs that receive accreditation have ultimately proven their worth as legitimate teaching institutions.
But, why go through all this in the first place? Basically, accreditation assures the student of the following:
- That he or she is entitled to equal rights of admission, registration, counseling, placement and orientation as every other student. This is important if you are opting for a long distance learning program.
- If the school or college is not accredited by a nationally recognized accredited organization, the school is then unable to participate in any student aid programs offered by the government. For students, this means that you will not be eligible for any student loans or federal grants. Accreditation also ensures that all Federal Aid funds are being used effectively.
- Future employers will rarely reimburse the tuition of any employee who has attended a school that is not accredited.
- If your career demands a state licensure exam, it is common for states to require that a college, university, or program be accredited before allowing students to acquire licensure.
- Coursework or even a degree from an accredited college can help you qualify for admission to other higher degree programs.
- Transfer of credits is only possible from one college to another, if both are accredited.
- Applying for a job after you graduate might prove to be difficult if your qualifications or degree has been granted by a school that is not accredited. In short, your entire education might be proved to be a waste of time, effort and money. Most employers review a job applicant’s educational history to make sure that he or she has received his or her education from a college, university, or program with accreditation and if not, this could hamper the chances of future employment.
In spite of all the regulations and rules, keep in mind that there are college accreditation associations that are not legitimate. Some colleges – so called ‘diploma mills’ create their own accrediting authority and then grant themselves “accreditation.” So, always be careful and dig deeper when investigating the accreditation of the college of your choice. There are basically only TWO large organizations in the U.S. that recognize accrediting agencies and give them the required validation. These are the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). You can visit US Department of Education website (http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/index.html) and CHEA website (CHEA.org) for a complete list of the accrediting agencies that these two bodies recognize.
To summarize, accreditation is a tool used to evaluate, monitor and assess the quality and standards of education offered by a college or institution. It instills trust in students, parents, and faculty alike that the education being offered is worthwhile and of value. Another objective of accreditation is to achieve positive outcomes in learning. Colleges, whose students consistently fail to achieve a particular level of performance, also come under the evaluation of the accreditation agency concerned.
However, if a college degree program you are interested in does not have a recognized accreditation, it also could mean that the program or institution is new and has not yet met all the minimum requirements for accreditation. You should research the college as much as possible and think of the long term consequences before signing up for anything. Ultimately, it is your education at stake. When in doubt – look it up!