What is Accreditation and Why is it Important?

Make sure that the diploma you receive is worth the price that you paid (Photo by gadgetdude)

In the context of higher education, accreditation is a means to assure the quality of teaching , and to ensure that classes meet certain standards instituted by neutral third parties. A school that is not accredited because it does not meet these standards is generally termed a diploma mill.

Accreditation is important to students for a number of reasons. It assures students that they will receive value for their money. That teachers will be competent in their fields, and competent in their teaching, and will be able to ensure that, assuming that students do well in their classes, those students in turn will be competent in their degree field. Accreditation also provides students with confidence that, should they have to transfer universities, the credit hours that they have accumulated will, for the most part, be transferred as well. Further, accreditation assures employers that students who perform well at accredited universities will also be able to perform well in the workplace.

In addition, governmental entities rely on accreditation. Students must attend an accredited university in order to be eligible for federal grants, loans, or scholarships. State governments require that graduates have attended an accredited university to be eligible to obtain the necessary licensing for  certain professions.

There are many different accreditation associations in the United States, including state, regional, and professional associations, among others. Two institutions oversee the quality of these accrediting agencies: the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE)and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The USDOE and CHEA develop the standards for the accrediting organizations, and keep track of many of the accrediting agencies.

There are agencies and universities that are not listed in either major database for one reason or another. However, failure to be listed does not necessarily mean that a particular agency or university is not credited. This gap between listings and actual accreditations makes life difficult for students who are trying to be diligent in determining whether the distance learning university they want to attend is accredited.

If you are trying to find out whether where you want to enroll is accredited, break the process down into steps. Start with the school’s website. If the university states that it is accredited, check the accrediting agency against the lists provided by USDOE and CHEA. If the university is listed by either entity, it is likely that that institution is properly accredited. To check further, CHEA lists questions whose answers will help you to determine whether a particular school may not be accredited.

If the degree that you are seeking is a professional one, that will require you to obtain a state license, you can check with regional accreditors to make sure that the university you have chosen is on their list. Finally, if the school offers an accelerated degree in exchange for little more than money, run, don’t walk away. Your courses should teach you about their subjects, and require you to prove your understanding through tests, exams, written papers, and presentations. It’s one thing to accelerate your learning by doing the required work faster: it’s another thing entirely to not require you to do any work at all.

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