It is important to understand how accreditations work to ensure that you end up selecting the right educational institution. This is even more important if you are planning to take a course line and are not sure what kind of college or university you are looking for. Here is a comprehensive guide breaking down the US accreditations system into simpler terms for you to understand and implement in your search for the right course.
Let us begin by understanding what is meant by the term accreditation and how it is applied in the context of educational institutions in the US.
Accreditation is best understood as a form of official approval or endorsement by the Department of Education recognizing that the specific college or university is offering valid programs and courses. It is not a compulsory requirement but almost all genuine educational institutions decide voluntarily to get accredited.
This seal of approval is provided once the said institution has been evaluated on predefined criteria by the registered approval authority. Therefore, before you decide to go ahead and enroll in any educational course online, it is important to do some research and check what type of accreditations are held by the institution.
Types of Accreditations
Typically, accreditations in the US can be categorized as programmatic accreditations or institutional accreditations.
As the name suggests, these accreditations pertain to a particular program for which they are awarded. This does not mean that the entire university or college is accredited. In fact, the institution may still run courses with programmatic accreditations alongside sources that have not been recognized.
Institutional accreditations, on the other hand, are offered to entire colleges, universities, or educational institutions. There is a possibility that a specific institution may be recognized overall by one authority and may still offer programs and courses recognized by other accreditation authorities.
Who Provides Accreditations in the US?
So, there are 2 aspects of verification that you need to consider. First, you need to check whether the university or the institution that you are considering is, in fact, accredited by a recognized agency. Second, you need to verify whether the course itself is recognized or not.
Both these verifications can be executed with the help of accreditors. While educational institutions in some countries are accredited by government organizations, in the US, the accreditations are given by private entities. The popular ones amongst these are NECHE (New England Commission of Higher Education) and LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
Apart from these, comprehensive details of recognized accreditors are maintained by the USDE (United States Department of Education). Students and the general public can access these records and check if the university or college that they are applying to is a genuine institution or not.
Further, CHEA or, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, is an association concerned specifically with higher education institutions. This non-profit organization also keeps a list of accreditors that are recognized and can be trustworthy.
Once you have checked the accreditations of the institution and the course, you can check with UDSE and CHEA the authenticity of the accreditation agencies themselves.
Types of Accreditors
The educational institutions in the US can attain national as well as regional accreditations.
National Vs Regional Accreditations
Advantages of National Accreditations
- It is cheaper for institutions to gain national accreditation than a regional one. And this has a positive impact on the tuition fees that you may incur as a student. Therefore, nationally accredited institutions are also more affordable as a general rule of thumb.
- Another advantage of national accreditations is that they carry special significance in career-oriented courses.
Advantages of Regional Accreditations
- Regional accreditations are the more popular option as they are old and are well-recognized. This is one of their biggest advantages. Therefore, students and most institutions covet regional accreditation since the degrees are accepted by a large range of employers.
- If an institution receives a regional accreditation, then they are considered as possessing good quality academic standards.
- Since they have a wider reach, any credit you gain by studying at a regionally accredited institution gets accepted easily by another institution in comparison to national accreditation.
- Lastly, if you are seeking a reimbursement from your company, then institutions with regional accreditations are the perfect option as aid and reimbursements are typically provided by regionally accredited institutions.
How to Select the Right Accreditations?
Having viewed the list of benefits of each type of accreditations, it is safe to say that institutions with regional accreditations will offer you degrees and diplomas that have a wider recognition. Therefore, these institutions would be your first option.
Having said that, institutions with national accreditations are more affordable. So, if cost is a major concern, then it is recommended to look for similar programs in an institution with national accreditation.
However, if you want a regionally accredited degree at an affordable price, then community colleges are an excellent option. These educational institutions offer reasonable degrees and vocational programs while being regionally accredited.
Beware of the following alarming signs
- There is a possibility that an institution has an existing accreditation that is valid but may be expiring soon. It is always a good idea to verify this on the accreditor’s page online.
- Make sure that the institution that you are targeting offers near similar levels of support and services online as it does to its on-campus students.
- Likewise, it is important to ensure that the faculty members including educators, examiners, and instructors are equally qualified as those involved in the on-premise option of the course.
- Further, the diplomas or degrees must be the same in the online version of the course as they are awarded in an on-campus program.
- Apart from this, avoid programs that sound ‘too-good-to-be-true’. Education requires hard work so do not settle for an online course just because it is short or easy. Make sure that the curriculum delivers everything that you expect to learn.
It is very important to conduct a thorough search before you finalize on any online course at any institution. There are enough and more avenues to verify the credentials of the course as well as the college or university offering a particular program. The US regional and national accreditations are designed for the purpose of ensuring that you receive the right quality of education.