Schools in the USA

Online College Accreditation

Legitimacy is one of the main issues you need to face when it comes to online colleges. Accreditation is one way to ensure you aren't getting involved with a scam, a fly-by-night operation or a diploma mill whose credential will be meaningless to potential employers.

Accreditation is a form of independent, professional certification that focuses on schools and programs in a particular field. Accreditation of online colleges therefore assures you and your parents that the institution adheres to high quality standards. Which means the programs are delivered by qualified faculty and are constantly updated to follow the changes and meet the needs of the relevant industry or working world. A degree or other credential from an accredited institution or program can help make you more competitive on the job market.

Accreditation in the US takes place at different levels. At the highest level, 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 an institution 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 online college it is (e.g., private, public, community, career, Christian, etc.) it may also be accredited by institute-type specific agencies. America's colleges, even online colleges, are extremely different in character and in the programs they offer. Therefore a school may be accredited by one or more organizations.

  • Specialized: Specialized accreditation 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. Online colleges cover a wide range of programs, and each institution usually has a page on its website listing both institutional and individual program accreditation.

    Therefore, when assessing the quality of an online college, you should look for both national and regional accreditation approved by the US Department of Education. Unfortunately, some online colleges will say they are accredited by agencies that are in fact fake, in order to create an appearance of legitimacy. In some states, it can actually be illegal to use a degree from an institution that isn't accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. If an institution says it's accredited, that's not good enough: you need to check up on the accrediting agency. As well, if the online college offers degrees, it should have been granted the authorization to award degrees by its State government.

    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. For instance, the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) is a national organization committed to maintaining and promoting the quality of America's online higher education institutions.

    Recognized Regional Accrediting Agencies
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities

  • Institutional Accrediting Agencies Relevant to Online Colleges
    Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
    Established: 1955
    Location: Washington, DC
    Web: www.detc.org
    Scope: Accreditation of both public and private institutions offering degree and non-degree distance and online education nationally and internationally.

    Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
    Established: 1956
    Location: Washington, DC
    Web: www.acics.org
    Scope: Accreditation of US private postsecondary institutions offering certificates, diplomas, associate's, bachelor's, or master's degrees in professional, technical, or occupational programs including distance or online education.

    Some Program-Specific Accrediting Agencies
    Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET): Accredits university and college programs in engineering, applied science, computing and technology in the United States.

    The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP): Accredits bachelor's and associate's degrees in 20 health sciences occupations, such as cardiovascular technologist, medical sonographer, emergency medical technician/ paramedic, medical assistant, surgical technologist, respiratory therapist and more

    Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): CCNE ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate and graduate education programs in preparing effective nurses.

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