What is Accreditation?


Colleges, universities and individual programs can be accredited. Accreditation is a voluntary process in the US. This includes 19 recognized institutional accrediting organizations and approximately 60 programmatic or sometimes called specialized accrediting organizations. The word "recognized" is key as it represents those organizations that have been reviewed for quality by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE).

Does Accreditation Matter?

Accreditation of colleges and universities in the U.S. was created so that the quality of education being received by students could be reliably evaluated. While accreditation is certainly not the only factor to consider when choosing a college or university, it is a critical starting point to decide whether a school or program of choice is a wise investment of time and money. The accreditation process is not easy, but it's worth it to the college or university to prove the credibility of the school. As mentioned above, many individual programs of study are also accredited by a recognized organization (ie, Nursing, Engineering Technology, Respiratory Care, etc).

What does this mean for the student?

  • Accreditation ensures students are entitled to basic student support services, such as equal admissions, registration advising, counseling, orientation and placement. These services are particularly important for distance education students.
  • Many state licensure agencies and national registries require that a student has graduated from a REGIONALLY accredited college and/or program of study.
  • There are different types of accreditation. Transfer of credits is only possible from one college to another, if both institutions are accredited by a recognized REGIONAL accrediting organization.
  • A graduate's chances of employment may be hampered if his or her degree was not granted from an accredited institution.

Are all accreditations the same?

Absolutely not. Students must do their homework to ensure the selected college or university is accredited by a legitimate agency. As mentioned above, the most reliable sources for determining accreditation status are The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

There are several categories of accrediting organizations.

  • Regional Accrediting Organizations
  • National Faith Related Accrediting Organizations
  • National Career Related Accrediting Organizations
  • Programmatic (Specialized) Accrediting Organizations

However, even then it is important to carefully look at the organization that accredits the institution. Central to this is inter-institution transferability of earned credit. It is extremely important that all students are aware of what will transfer and where it will transfer to. . While many types of institutions are accredited, only those accredited by a regional accreditation organization will accept credits from each other. Credit typically will not transfer from a National Career Related or National Faith Related Accrediting Organization to a regionally accredited college or university. So it is important that students verify the mobility of credits from one institution to another. The organization that accredits colleges and universities in the 10 state southern area of the nation is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Greenville Technical College, Clemson University, USC, Duke, UNC, College of Charleston, etc are all accredited by SACSCOC. There are five (5) other regional accreditation organizations representing the rest of the nation. They are:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

For more information on accreditation, please contact the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) at www.chea.org. This organization coordinates national, regional and specialized accreditation and represents over 3,000 degree granting institutions.

See also:

Why is Accreditation Important?

Licensing and Accreditation: what you need to know