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Schools in the USA

Liberal Arts College Accreditation

Accreditation is a form of independent, professional certification that focuses on schools and programs in a particular field. Accreditation of liberal arts colleges therefore assures you and your parents that the school adheres to high quality standards. Which means the programs are delivered by qualified faculty and are constantly updated to remain current and relevant. Attending an accredited school or program is often thought to make you more competitive on the job market.

Accreditation in the US takes place at different levels. At the highest level, governmental and other agencies govern and recognize the accrediting bodies. For instance, the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Association (CHEA) and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) grant power to associations that oversee accreditation at the regional, institutional or program level.

  • Regional: The US Department of Education recognizes 6 distinct higher educational regions, each of which is overseen by a different accrediting body. This is the type of accreditation most commonly referred to and is for a university or college as a whole, not for individual programs. Accreditation by these regional agencies isn't automatic: this is voluntary accreditation.


  • Institutional: Depending on the kind of liberal arts college it is (e.g., Christian, public or private) it may also be accredited by institute-type specific agencies. America's liberal arts colleges can be quite different in character, size, location and in the programs they offer. Therefore a school may be accredited by one or more organizations.


  • Specialized: Specialized accreditation is a type of accreditation that focuses on specific areas of study and individual programs. This is sometimes called professional accreditation, because it means specific programs meet the national standards for that field of study. Liberal arts colleges cover a wide range of programs, and each institution usually has a page on its website listing both institutional and individual program accreditation. Some liberal arts colleges specialize in offering programs in a particular field (such as education or religious studies) and may therefore be accredited by the relevant specialized accrediting agency or agencies.

    When assessing quality, you can also look at whether a school or program has any memberships in, or endorsements by, professional associations which reflect certain standards of quality, but this is not the same as official accreditation. For instance, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and National Humanities Alliance (NHA) do not accredit programs, but are national organizations which liberal arts colleges can join in order to advocate for the maintenance of quality higher education institutions in this field.

    Accrediting Agencies
    Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
    Established: 1956
    Location: Washington, DC
    Web address: www.acics.org
    Scope: Accredits private postsecondary institutions offering certificates or diplomas, and postsecondary institutions offering associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in professional, technical, or occupational programs.

    American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE)
    Established: 1992
    Location: Washington, DC
    Web: www.aale.org
    Scope: Accredits higher education institutions--as well as departments within institutions--offering liberal arts and general education degrees at the baccalaureate level.

    Some other program-specific accrediting agencies
    Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission: Accredits Christian postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer certificates, diplomas, associate's, bachelor's and graduate degrees.

    National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), National Association of Schools of Music (NASM): Accredits US institutions and colleges/ schools within institutions offering degree-granting programs in art and/or design-related disciplines and music respectively.

    Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB): Accredits business colleges and programs in the US and internationally.

    There are many more professional accrediting agencies that may be relevant, dependng on the course offerings at specific liberal arts colleges. Consult our program page "accreditiation" sections for more on these agencies.

    Why Accreditation?
    The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies have no legal control over institutions or programs; they promote certain standards and approve or renew membership of institutions that apply and meet the accreditation standards or criteria. Certain licensing programs may require that you've been through a course of study with specialized accreditation, because it ensures that you have been taught by faculty qualified to teach in that field. The US Secretary of Education and CHEA each maintain and publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, and most institutions attain eligibility for Federal funds by holding accredited or pre-accredited status with one of the recognized accrediting agencies.
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