With the recent increase in distance education, students often are concerned with whether or not they are pursuing a degree worth their time and effort. If/When students inquire about a school’s accreditation, more often than not the meaning behind the accreditation goes unnoticed. So the question remains, if a school is regionally accredited does that mean it is better than a nationally accredited one?
First and foremost, accreditation is not administered through the United States Department of Education; a school must, however, be accredited in order to receive financial funding from the government. According to the United States Department of Education, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency” (USDOE, 4). Furthermore, schools are visited regularly by their accrediting agency to ensure the required standards are maintained; if found to be unacceptable a school can be placed on probation or have their accreditation revoked.
Historically, regional accreditation has been reserved for academically-oriented, non-profit institutions. That goes without saying that nationally accredited institutions are still academically-focused, but have a curriculum with a different goal in mind. State universities and local community colleges are typically regionally accredited and prepare students to transfer to a four-year university or pursue post-graduate studies, if they so desire. “One reason given for regional institutions’ reluctance to accept credits from nationally accredited institutions is that national accreditors have less stringent standards for criteria such as faculty qualifications and library resources” (Government, 2005). Regional accreditation is quite important if one is seeking a career that requires an education beyond two years (an Associate’s degree) or in a field focused on the liberal arts and sciences (math, English, science and social studies). With that being said, if education beyond an Associate’s is desired, accreditation should be taken into consideration when selecting an institution as it could be more difficult to transfer to a four-year university with a degree from a nationally accredited school.
Nationally accredited institutions are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs; ITT Technical Institute, Everest University, and Kaplan Career Institute are among some of these contenders. With degree programs focused on career training, the scope of the curriculum in each school is to train its students to immediately enter the workforce instead of pursuing an education beyond the typically two-year Associate’s degree. Despite popular belief, nationally accredited schools simply offer a different degree focus that sometimes may be misconstrued as ‘worse’ than regionally accredited schools due to the potential lack of credit transferability. In fact, the value of one’s degree is based on a number of factors: post-graduation goals, use of one’s degree, long-term educational pursuits, and financial demands. Because national accreditation has less stringent standards and the institutions tend to be for-profit, the cost of a degree may run higher than that of a regionally accredited state school; this adds to the public stigma of huge debt, questionable degree.
Accreditation is important, there is no argument that states otherwise; choosing the correct school (and subsequently, accrediting body) to meet the long-term needs is of the utmost importance as well. When researching schools and applying for admission, carefully look into the accreditation to be sure the right decision is being made and all questions are answered before starting any classes. Most accrediting information can be found on a school’s website (typically under the ‘About Us’ tab) and if nothing is clearly stated, look to enroll elsewhere.