Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
You realize that accreditation of your school is important but you have more questions about it. For example, what does accreditation mean? How do you know for sure that your school is accredited? Are some types of accreditation better than others? In order to choose the best school for yourself, you need to do some work researching the schools that you are considering. Accreditation is one of the most important factors that you should research before you pay your money and register at a school.
Being licensed and being accredited are not the same thing. In some places, schools need to have their accreditation before they can be licensed. In other places, being licensed may require no standards or very minimal standards. Being accredited means that the school has been checked by a non-governmental accrediting organization and found to meet standards that they hold. The accrediting agency reviews all new schools which are requesting accreditation and all accredited schools before their accreditation is renewed. The appraisal is done by a board of peers comprised of faculty and experts from other accredited schools. The school which is being evaluated must provide information such as its mission statement, admission requirements, outlines of programs, student services, the qualifications of the staff and the faculty etc. One important aspect of the school’s obligation is a commitment to strive for continual improvement.
The U.S. Department of Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation acknowledge accrediting agencies. Both of these organizations maintain a list of accredited schools. Check out your school on one or both of these lists to make sure that your school is accredited. You definitely do not want to spend your time and money to study at a school which will not be recognized by employers or by other schools if you need to transfer credits. Accreditation is handled by the accrediting agencies which are regional, national or specialized agencies. The most esteemed type of accreditation is the regional kind, so that is the type you should look for in your online school. The national accreditation bodies handle career or vocational schools and the accreditation is nationwide. However, the drawback is that often it is not possible to transfer credits from nationally accredited schools to regionally accredited schools. Therefore you should be very careful about attending a nationally rather than a regionally accredited school. The third type is specialized accreditation which is applied to specialized programs. There are some professions such as law, teacher education, psychology, architecture, or veterinary which require specialized accreditation for the program in addition to the institution’s accreditation.
The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as a reliable accrediting agency. A distance education school can apply for accreditation after it has been operating for 2 years and must go through an involved process such as the process described above for other institutions. The DETC agency also contacts the Better Business Bureau, other institutions, and surveys students to ensure that it is a reputable school. With such a rigorous process of accreditation, for distance learners, DETC is a reliable accreditation to look for in a school.
By now you realize that there are different accrediting agencies that work to ensure that your education is of good quality. However, only you can decide which type of accreditation will be the most beneficial for you. In order to make that decision you will have to research the school you are most interested in and determine what type of accreditation it has. Most of the schools tell you on their web page what accreditation they have. You will need to know what your overall plan is for your education and career in order to make the best decision now as to which school you should attend. If you are unsure of your future plans, then it may be best to allow yourself wide versatility by choosing a school that has a regional accreditation because that endorsement is held in such high esteem. That would allow you a higher likelihood of transfer to other schools if you need to in the future. Whatever type of accreditation you are interested in, make sure that you check out the list on the website for the U.S. Department of Education, or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. There is a slight possibility that a school which is not on one of those lists might be a suitable one for you but you would need to check that out very carefully before making such a decision. An example would be if there were a new school which is applying for accreditation but has not yet received it. Accreditation does guarantee that you will receive at least a certain level of education from a school, thus increasing its value to you.