You may have heard the term "accreditation" before and wondered what it means and how it applies to you. If you are planning on attending college—online or on campus—accreditation is important because it signifies that a particular school has meet the standards of quality education set by a board or government agency. Accreditation can affect your education immensely. From the quality of instructors to eligibility for financial assistance, accreditation plays an important role in an institution's functions.
When looking for an online college to attend, the most important thing to verify is whether the school is accredited. To do so, you can search the U.S. Department of Education's database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs. There, you can also find in-depth information on regional and national accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. secretary of education as reliable authorities on the quality of education. Not all online colleges are accredited, and many legitimate schools are either too new to be granted accreditation or they choose not to pursue it. If you find out that the online college you are interested in is not accredited, then you should investigate further to verify that it is a legitimate school and offers a quality education. According to a Peterson's article, called Colleges' and Universities' Accreditation Credentials, you should start your research with the regional accrediting agency that covers the state in which the school is located. They can tell you whether the school has a legitimate charter. Next, check to see whether there are specialized accrediting agencies that handle the particular program you're interested in.
Accreditation is not only important for the quality and reputation of online colleges, but receiving a degree from an unaccredited college could affect the transfer of your credits to other schools and whether employers recognize your degree or certificate.
In the United States, online colleges that are fully accredited have been recognized by one of six regional accreditation boards that also evaluate traditional campuses. These include:
- The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize the Distance Education and Training Council as a reputable evaluator of education programs that offer online degrees. Once an online program becomes accredited, it's more likely that a traditional school will accept its transfer credits and that employers will recognize its value.