Accreditation is an important topic for prospective college students. Attending a college that is poorly accredited may be a good bargain while you are in school, but upon graduation you will soon discover that a degree from an unaccredited or under accredited school may be a huge disadvantage in your search for a job.
One way for a college to gain accreditation is institutionally, meaning the entire college has a general accreditation. To gain an institutional accreditation, a college or university needs to demonstrate that they have information resources, such as libraries, available to their student body. They also need to prove to the accrediting body that they have significant student resources, such as enough faculty and staff, and have a track record of graduating students that have success in their field of study.
Program Specific Accreditation
Another way to gain accreditation is for a program to obtain accreditation itself, called programmatic accreditation. With a program specific accreditation, just a certain program will be accredited under the institution. A college may have an institutional accreditation and a program specific accreditation at the same time. Additionally, a college may be institutionally accredited but may not have the most advantageous program accreditation for your specific major, so it is important to research specific accreditation of your program when looking for an online college to attend. It is also possible for a college program to become nationally accredited by an professional group that also has also offers memberships for practicing professionals in that field. This is not always possible, but it is advantageous to you to research if your specific program has any of these affiliations or accreditations. Common programs for accreditation are law, nursing, education and engineering.
The main accrediting body in the US, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), has six regional bodies that each accredit the colleges in their geographic location. It is uncommon for online schools to have regional accreditation, but an online institution can gain regional accreditation if that college has a physical location in one of the six regions in addition to their online degree seeking program.
Specific Online College Accreditation
The Distance Education and Training Counsel (DETC) is the sect of CHEA that is responsible for accrediting online universities. The DETC ensures that online and distance programs have content that is at the same level as their brick and mortar counterparts. Due to the rigorous nature of this accreditation, online schools that have this accreditation have a high percentage of graduates.
Accreditation offers many possibilities to you, the prospective student. Federal grants are only available to students at accredited colleges, as are other benefits such as subsidized student loans and GI Bill benefits. In addition to the financial benefits, attending an accredited school makes transfer between universities much quicker and smoother than transferring from a non-accredited institution. In order to demonstrate to future employers and other universities should you pursue additional studies, do your research to ensure that your online college or program is accredited.