Graduates from accredited schools have a competitive edge in the employment market, so recognizing what it means to be an accredited school is knowledge prospective students should possess. Accreditation is a process whereby institutions of higher learning can have the quality and integrity of their academic programs verified by regional and national agencies charged with setting forth the standards for post-secondary education. Accreditation is also important because it can qualify schools for participation in financial aid programs, according to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
How Accrediting Agencies Work
Accrediting agencies seek to ensure that schools are upholding foundational standards for degree programs that prepare graduates to become professionals in their chosen field. They monitor how post-secondary institutions structure their degree programs and help to define the manner in which they are administered. Accreditation guidelines require schools to continually revise their curriculum and best instructional practices according to trending educational models. By providing these frameworks for schools to follow, accrediting agencies improve the quality of education for all students. Prospective degree-seekers can check a school’s accreditation status by visiting the school’s website or finding it on the U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation database.
Becoming an Accredited School
Schools apply for accreditation from the appropriate regional or national accrediting agencies. Agencies review operating procedures and programs then inform schools of areas that may be out of compliance with accreditation standards. Schools have a certain time period to address these issues and enact recommended changes. Upon further review, schools may be granted accreditation for a period of five to ten years depending on the agency. During this time, the school continues to implement suggested operational procedures and continue program development. To maintain their accredited status, schools go through a renewal process prior to the current accreditation period’s expiration.
Accrediting Agencies by Region
Traditional post-secondary colleges and universities, whether public or private, can receive accreditation through one of six regional agencies overseen by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation:
- WASC Senior College and University Commission
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Accreditation by National Agencies
National agencies can accredit schools operating as for-profit institutions that provide technical, vocational, career or primarily online degree programs:
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission
Organizations that Accredit Individual Degree Programs
It is worthwhile to mention that individual degree programs can also be accredited separately by professional career organizations. These agencies endorse programs that meet curriculum standards and prepare graduates to become career leaders. For example, business programs may be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Program accreditation status is usually noted on a department’s main web site or the degree page.
Related Resource: When to Apply For Financial Aid
Attending accredited schools allows students to access financial aid opportunities, participate in high-quality educational programs, and earn legitimate degrees valued by employers. In view of this, understanding what it means to be an accredited school assists prospective students in making well-informed educational and career decisions.