Introduction to Accreditation

When students search for schools, many of them want to be sure the school is accredited. Employers are becoming more diligent in their background checks of potential and current employees. Attending and graduating from an accredited institution can make the difference between getting hired or not. Each year the U. S. Secretary of Education publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies. Most schools will strive for accreditation from one of the agencies on the list.

FAQs on Accreditation

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is a peer-review process where an educational institution is examined by an outside body to determine whether or not it meets certain criteria. If met, the institution is granted accredited status. In other words, it meets a certain level of quality for its programs, courses of study, and testing. Many employers are now checking the educational references of employees to determine if they actually graduated from an accredited institution, versus a "diploma mill".

What are the types of accreditation?

In the United States, accreditation is gained via independent bodies. This is very different to the European model, where a governmental department grants accreditation. American accreditation is granted via many bodies, some of them regional in scope, some national. Typically, regional accreditation focuses on non-profit, academic institutions. National accreditation focuses on for-profit, career-oriented schools that may offer technical or career programs. There are also accreditation agencies that focus specifically on theological or religious schools.

What is the importance of accreditation?

Accreditation is gaining importance as more and more employers discover that employees with an alleged educational background actually "graduated" from a diploma mill-a for-profit company that issues fake diplomas for a fee. In some states, using a degree granted by these institutions is illegal. Most types of financial aid require that the student attend an accredited institution; federal civil service employment also requires that the employee attended an accredited institution.

What is the difference between accreditation and diploma mills?

An accredited institution has gone through a comprehensive peer-review process and has met certain minimum guidelines regarding its teaching staff, curriculum, testing procedures, and more. A diploma mill takes your money and issues a piece of paper that looks like a diploma, but is actually worth much less than the price paid. If you use that "diploma" to obtain a job in a state or entity where that use is illegal, you could find yourself fired or worse.

What points should one know about accreditation?

Since there are many accrediting organizations in the United States, a prospective student should find out which one has accredited the school he or she is considering, and then check it against the list published by the Secretary of Education. If the accrediting agency is not on the list, a student may want to reconsider applying to that school.

Regional Accreditation Agencies

A list of regional accreditation agencies for the United States is published each year by the Secretary of Education. The list is now online, making it very easy for students to verify the accreditation status of institutions. Remember, most regionally accredited schools are non-profit academic institutions such as primary and secondary schools.

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