When you submit your college application, the university performs a pre-screening process to determine whether you are a good fit for them and meet minimum institutional standards. Typically, they review your standardized test scores, personal statement, traits, supplemental essays, and other predetermined criteria.
On the other side of the coin, when students search for a university to enroll, they normally check for its location, courses offered, ranking, and tuition fees, among others. But of all the factors that prospective students should consider when going through the shortlisting process, university accreditation should be a top priority. Let’s find out why.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a review process in which educational institutions are evaluated. If a college is accredited, it means that it is credible, provides quality education, and it meets a certain set of strict and recognized operational standards.
As a future student, you will be focusing a lot of your valuable time and energy on your education. Having said that, it is highly important to select a credible, accredited program and ensure that the education you receive is both trustworthy and worth the money you pay. The principal aim of any higher education institution is to offer students first-class education and assist them in developing new skills that would enhance their career opportunities. The first step in making sure that universities are working towards achieving that aim is getting accredited.
How are Universities Accredited?
Universities are accredited through external verification by peer reviewers, usually by an accreditation body or agency. These accrediting agencies set evaluation criteria and common standards to which they believe all higher education institutions should adhere. They establish associations to carry out the accreditation programs that universities enter into voluntarily. The accrediting body then conducts peer evaluations, reviews the university’s curriculum, and assesses whether the common standards are met, and if they do, that institution gets accredited.
Accreditors are supervised by nonprofit organizations such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and inspected by the U.S Department of Education. They make sure that all institutions are going through a rigorous internal review and that accreditation standards are continually being met.
An educational institution that is awarded accreditation has the following characteristics:
- It has a clearly defined mission
- It has all the resources to achieve its mission
- It has evolved with the changes in academic standards
- It has maintained a quality reputation
Why is Accreditation Important?
A university accreditation stands as a validated hallmark of excellence and quality education. By enrolling in an accredited university or program, you can be confident that your university meets all the established quality standards, offers a top-notch academic curriculum, promotes a student-centered learning environment, and ensures continuous improvement with the best educational practices.
Additionally, a university accreditation serves as a badge of identity that helps employers determine whether a particular student has achieved specified learning goals and that they didn’t just buy a fabricated degree from diploma mills. A university without accreditation is considered as disreputable by government agencies, employers, and other schools and institutions.
Choosing an accredited institution has also several benefits:
Transfer credits earned
Having a degree from a university that is fully accredited speaks not only to their credibility and quality of education, but it can also mean you will receive assistance in transferring credits between two accredited institutions. For instance, if you plan to move from one accredited college to another, the credits you obtained from the previous college will be automatically transferred/accepted in the new one, and you wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Conversely, moving from a non-accredited institution to an accredited one means that credits earned will not be recognized and you’d have to start all over again.
It is also important to note that some particular academic programs have a specialized accreditation system and they only accept transferring credits from another institution with the same specialized accreditation system.
Many university students have a hard time paying for their education and usually rely on financial aid to afford their academic dreams. Accreditation is a key condition that determines whether you can participate in federal and financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education ensures that student loans, grants, and scholarships are only awarded to students currently enrolled in a university or college that is accredited and meets the recognized standards. Attending an unaccredited university is a guaranteed way to be rejected from these federal and financial aid programs.
Types of Accreditation
There are two general university accreditation types in higher education serving a specific purpose and goal. They are referred to as “regional” and “national” accreditation. Let’s see what each of them mean.
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Regional University Accreditation
Regional accreditation focuses on educational institutions in particular regions of the U.S. They are considered highly esteemed, and their primary function is to assess and grant accreditation to public, private and non-profit institutions of tertiary education; also including those that offer distance learning programs. The regional accrediting agencies are independent and perform on the basis of a peer-review process that assesses whether a particular school, college, and university meets the minimum standards.
Six regional accreditation agencies exist in the U.S., and each of them is recognized by USDE and CHEA. Those include:
North Central Association (NCA)
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
National University Accreditation
As its name suggests, national accreditation grants accreditation to institutions all over the country. Contrary to the regional ones, national accrediting agencies are mostly associated with for-profit, religious and vocational institutions. It is not the gold standard of accreditation, but it is still a third-party review that evaluates whether a particular institution meets the required standards. A key concern regarding regional and national accreditations is that the transfer of credits cannot occur between the two. A student who earns a degree from a nationally accredited university cannot transfer credits to other regionally accredited schools whereas the opposite is true. Some of the most famous national accrediting agencies include the following:
Distance Education & Training Council (DETC)
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS)
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
When choosing a college or university for your future education, it is essential to determine whether that institution is accredited. The last thing you want to happen is graduating from a university that is not accredited and recognized by employers, the government, and other educational institutions. Knowing that your chosen university is accredited gives you peace of mind knowing that it meets all the quality standards and prepares you for a successful career.