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Regional vs. National Accreditation – There’s a Huge Difference

The vast number of options available for students heading off to college or even thinking about heading to college can be rather daunting. While your educational experience will be what you make of it, wherever you go, there is one key thing you need to consider: is the institution accredited?

In the United States, accreditation means that the institution that you are planning on attending for your higher education is regularly assessed by an independent agency on the quality of the education it provides. There are two types of accreditation: the first is institutional, which refers to the entire institution. The second is program-based and relates to individual programs of study within the institution.

Institutional accreditation is a process that a college or university voluntarily goes through. The institution requests that an accreditation agency assess its programs, its faculty, and its students’ success, in order to determine if these meet the standards for higher education. If the standards are met, the institution is accredited and regularly reassessed in order to make certain that the entire institution continues to meet that standard.

Within an accredited institution individual programs may be accredited separately from the overall institution. Depending on what career field you want to enter, this may be more important than the institutional accreditation. Psychology, education, medical specialties, engineering, and social work, are fields that often times require that a student’s program was accredited separately from the institution. Program-based accreditation is conducted by the professional associations linked to that field of study, such as the American Psychological Association for Psychology. This type of accreditation makes certain that the program of study meets the standards of the field for the education and experiences that will result in the student having the background that will lead to success in their field.

If you are not sure if the institution or the program you are interested in is accredited and you have thoroughly checked its website and print materials, the United States Department of Education keeps a database of accredited institutions and programs accessible through its website: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.

Regional Vs National Accreditation

Plain and simple, regional accreditation is not the same as national accreditation. The main difference between the two are that credits earned from institutions that are regionally accredited are more widely accepted and thus more easily transferable.

Earning credits in college is like getting points in a game. Students who earn enough points in a game level up. Leveling up in this game of college credits is earning different degrees. Whereas points in a game don’t usually transfer to another game, they do transfer to other colleges. Online college students should be aware of the impact that accreditation has on their degree journey. While national accreditation might seem more authoritative that regional accreditation, this isn’t always the case. Regional accreditation is older and more prestigious

While national accreditation might seem more authoritative that regional accreditation, this isn’t always the case. Regional accreditation is older and more prestigious that national, except in a few cases. Most non-profit colleges have regional accreditation, not national accreditation.

Understand the Differences

Regional Accreditation

As implied in the name, regional accrediting organizations operate in specific regions of the country. These organizations grant accreditation to schools, colleges, and universities showing that their credits and degrees meet minimum standards. This is a voluntary process that self-regulates the higher education industry.

Regionally accredited colleges are mostly academically-oriented, non-profit or state-owned institutions. Regionally accredited institutions are reluctant to accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions, mainly because the latter hasn’t met the stringent standards of faculty qualifications and library resources.

Regional accrediting agencies each serve a certain geographic region of the United States, and some of them serve international regions, as well. They accredit postsecondary institutions as well as primary and secondary schools. Each of these agencies is primarily concerned with the accreditation of academically oriented, non-profit schools, rather than technical or career-based schools. The University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University, for example, have each received accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. This type of accreditation granted by regional agencies is known as institutional accreditation. It acknowledges that all components of an institution are functioning and working towards specific goals. There are six regional accrediting agencies that operate in the United States:

Before transferring from a national to a regional institution, make sure that the institution will accept the credits you’ve earned.

National Accreditation

Nationally accredited schools are generally for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs. National accreditation generally offers accreditation to schools that focus on career or religious education.

Nationally accredited schools will generally accept credits from other nationally accredited schools and from regionally accredited schools.

National accrediting agencies have a slightly different function. As their name suggests, national agencies accredit schools across the entire country. They typically accredit vocational, technical, or career-based, for-profit schools. While some agencies, such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, focus primarily on providing institutional accreditation, others, such as the American Academy for Liberal Education, offer both institutional and programmatic accreditation.

One of the key issues concerning regional and national accrediting agencies is the transfer of credits earned. Many regionally accredited institutes will not accept credits from nationally accredited institutes and vice versa. Schools will, however, generally accept transfer credits from schools with similar types of accreditation, because that indicates that they have comparable curriculums and standards.

Programmatic, or specialized, accrediting agencies concentrate on programs, departments, and schools within larger universities. Institutions that receive accreditation from programmatic agencies generally also have institutional accreditation. While some programmatic agencies offer both programmatic and institutional accreditation, many institutes choose to pursue institutional accreditation from a regional agency. One of the prominent programmatic agencies is the National Architectural Accrediting Board , which bears sole responsibility for accrediting all architectural programs within the United States.

Just as institutions apply to these different agencies for accreditation, the agencies apply to the U.S. Department of Education for federal recognition. The process is somewhat similar: the Department of Education establishes standards that recognized agencies should meet, and teams evaluate the agencies to see if they satisfy those criteria. An agency recognized by the government is analogous to an educational institution accredited by an agency. Universities and colleges can trust that such an agency is a valid, reputable source for accreditation.

When you are browsing colleges, don’t just check if a school is accredited. Check that the accrediting agency is also recognized by the Department of Education. If the agency is not recognized, the school should be avoided, just as if it had no accreditation at all. The Department of Education maintains a list of recognized accrediting agencies at its website.

Why Your School Should Be Accredited

In the United States, educational institutions are allowed to operate with a great deal of freedom. Accreditation is awarded to schools that meet basic standards of academic quality. These standards are determined and developed by private organizations.

There are several large, regional accrediting associations, such as the Northwest Commision on Colleges and Universities, which accredit institutions within a particular area of the United States. These groups generally award accreditation to an entire university. There are also, however, smaller, specialized accreditation agencies. These agencies typically accredit smaller components of an institution, such as a nursing program or a psychology department.

How Schools Get Accredited

The process of obtaining accreditation has several steps. First, an accreditation agency works with an educational institution to establish reasonable criteria that must be met to receive accreditation. A school then conducts a self-evaluation with these criteria in mind. If the school determines that it meets the criteria, then it hosts an outside evaluation team sent by the accrediting agency. Once the team is satisfied that the proper standards have been met, the agency officially grants accreditation to the institution. Once this accreditation has been granted, the agency continues to monitor the institution, and occasionally launches a full reevaluation, in order to ensure that it continues to meet the standards.

Why Some Schools Are Not Accredited

Some schools choose not to seek accreditation. This decision may be based on several factors. The accreditation process is costly, and accredited schools generally charge a higher tuition rate. A school might offer a non-traditional learning format that, while it may provide an otherwise complete and comprehensive education, does not adhere to accreditation standards.

Some schools, on the other hand, do not seek accreditation because they run poorly designed, ineffective programs. A school without accreditation does not have either the credibility or the reputation of an accredited school. Future employers, as well as graduate school interviewers, might not consider a diploma valid if it is granted by a school without accreditation. There is no way to tell if the diploma is the result of an intensive course of study or a subpar, perhaps even fraudulent, program.

Accreditation ensures not only the quality of program content, but also the quality of teaching at an institution. Faculty are held to high professional standards in terms of qualifications and teaching ability. Instructors at schools without accreditation may not possess the degree or the experience necessary to teach effectively.

Accreditation and Transferring Credits

For students wishing to transfer from one school to another, most accredited institutions only accept credit from other accredited institutions. Courses taken at a school without accreditation will need to be repeated, costing more time and money.

Don’t be fooled by the low costs of schools without accreditation. The long-term price of attending such an institution is much greater than the tuition of any accredited school. Schools go through the accreditation process in order to provide their students with a worthwhile education that will be recognized by employers and other schools. It’s worth taking advantage of this.

Paying attention to the kind of accreditation your school has is especially important if there is any chance you may want to transfer to a different school during your degree, or study elsewhere for a further qualification. If your first school is not accredited, then your new school is unlikely to accept the credits you have accumulated from your studies there. Even if it is accredited, it will need to be accredited by the same board as your new school if you want to be sure your credits will transfer. The best way to ensure you will be free to transfer credits is to attend only schools listed on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

Financial Aid and Accreditation

If an institution is neither regionally nor nationally accredited, no federal aid is available.

The majority of college students rely on some sort of financial aid to help them pay for their education. Many students are eligible for loans and grants from the federal government. Federal aid is only offered, however, to students attending an accredited institution. The United States Department of Education maintains a database of federally-recognized accrediting bodies, as well as recognized accredited institutions, at their website. While schools without accreditation are often able to offer lower rates of tuition, students usually end up paying more money out of pocket.

regional-vs-national-accreditation

Enrolling in an accredited school can also make the difference between receiving financial aid and paying everything out of your own pocket. Schools accredited by the U.S. Department of Education provide financial aid to the many students who qualify for grants or loans. Non-accredited schools are not eligible to offer financial aid to their students.

Plan Ahead for Transferring

According to recent data from The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, more than a third of college students transfer at least once within six years. Nearly 54 percent of students transferred from four-year institutions to two-year community colleges.

Changes in one’s college plans are often unforeseen. Roughly 67 percent of college students graduate from the school they first started. Thus, the importance of choosing a regionally accredited institution right off the bat. Regionally accredited institutions typically accept credits from schools that hold similar credentials. Nationally accredited schools typically accept credits from other national institutions.

Enrolling in an accredited school can also make the difference between receiving financial aid and paying everything out of your own pocket. Schools accredited by the U.S. Department of Education provide financial aid to the many students who qualify for grants or loans. Non-accredited schools are not eligible to offer financial aid to their students.

By choosing a regionally accredited college, students open up their pool of potential universities that will accept their hard-earned credits, this is especially so for online college students.

How to Know a College’s Accreditation

Qualifying for regional accreditation is a rigorous process. The U.S. Department of Education offers a free tool that allows you to search for accreditation. The U.S. Dept of Education recognizes seven regional accrediting bodies that meet the standards of the Council of Higher Education.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
Schools in New York, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are accredited by MSCHE.

New England Association of Schools and Colleges
Commission on Institution of Higher Education (NEASC-CHE)
Schools in Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts are accredited by NEASC-CHE.

North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
The Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC)
Schools in Wyoming, Arizona, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Michigan and Kansas are accredited by NCA-HLC.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
Commission on Colleges
Schools in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina are accredited by SACS.

Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC-WASC)
Schools in California and Hawaii in addition to those in American Samoa, the Territories of Guam, the Republic of Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia are accredited by ACCJC-WASC.

Regional and National Institutional Accrediting Agencies

“The following regional and national accrediting agencies are recognized by the Secretary as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit.” – Ed.Gov

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
1967/2011/S2016
Scope of recognition: the accreditation of postsecondary, non-degree-granting institutions and degree-granting institutions in the United States, including those granting associate , baccalaureate and master’s degrees, that are predominantly organized to educate students for occupational, trade and technical careers, and including institutions that offer programs via distance education.

Michale McComis, Executive Director
2101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 302
Arlington, Virginia 22201
Tel. (703) 247-4212, Fax (703) 247-4533
E-mail address: mccomis@accsc.org
Web address: www.accsc.org

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
1978/2013/S2018
Scope of recognition: the accreditation throughout the United States of institutions of higher education that offer continuing education and vocational programs that confer certificates or occupational associate degrees, including those programs offered via distance education.
Title IV Note: Only those institutions classified by this agency as “vocational ” may use accreditation by the agency to establish eligibility to participate in Title IV programs.

William V. Larkin, Executive Director
1722 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 955-1113, Fax (202) 955-1118
E-mail address: wvlarkin@accet.org
Web address: www.accet.org

Council on Occupational Education
1969/2013/S2016
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidacy Status”) throughout the United States of postsecondary occupational education institutions offering non-degree and applied associate degree programs in specific career and technical education fields, including institutions that offer programs via distance education.

Gary Puckett, Executive Director
7840 Roswell Road, Building 300, Suite 325
Atlanta, Georgia 30350
Tel. (770) 396-3898, (800) 917-2081, Fax (770) 396-3790
E-mail address: puckettg@council.org
Web address: www.council.org

Distance Education Accrediting Commission
1959/2012/S2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation of postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer degree and/or non-degree programs primarily by the distance or correspondence education method up to and including the professional doctoral degree, including those institutions that are specifically certified by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes.
Title IV Note:Only accredited institutions that are certified by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes may use accreditation by this agency to establish eligibility of its degree and/or non-degree programs to participate in Title IV programs.

Leah K. Matthews, Executive Director
1101 17th Street NW, Suite 808
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 234-5100, Fax (202) 332-1386
E-mail address: info@deac.org
Web address:www.deac.org

Middle States Commission on Higher Education
1952/2012/F2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidacy status”) of institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including distance and correspondence education programs offered at those institutions.

Elizabeth H. Sibolski, President
3624 Market Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Tel. (267) 284-5000, Fax (215) 662-5950
E-mail address: info@msche.org
Web address: www.msche.org

Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
2004/2014/S2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation of institutions with postsecondary, non-degree granting career and technology programs in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to include the accreditation of postsecondary, non-degree granting institutions that offer all or part of their educational programs via distance education modalities..
Title IV Note:Only those vocational/technical schools accredited by this agency that offer non-degree, postsecondary education may use that accreditation to establish eligibility to participate in Title IV programs.Henry Cram, President
3624 Market Street, 2 West
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-2680
Tel. (267) 284-5000, Fax (215) 662-0957
E-mail address: jpruitt@msa-cess.org
Web address: www.msa-cess.org

New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
1952/2015/F2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidacy status”) of institutions of higher education in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont that award bachelor’s, master’s, and/or doctoral degrees and associate degree-granting institutions in those states that include degrees in liberal arts or general studies among their offerings, including the accreditation of programs offered via distance education within these institutions..

Barbara E. Brittingham, President
3 Burlington Woods Drive, Suite 100
Burlington, Massachusetts 01803-4514
Tel. (781) 425-7700, Fax (781) 425-1001
E-mail address:bbrittingham@neasc.org
Web address: https://cihe.neasc.org

New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education
1952/2012/F2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation of those degree-granting institutions of higher education in New York, including distance education offered by those institutions, that designate the agency as their sole or primary nationally recognized accrediting agency for purposes of establishing eligibility to participate in HEA programs.

MaryEllen Elia, Commissioner of Education
State Education Department
The University of the State of New York
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
Tel. (518) 474-5844 Fax (518) 473-4909
E-Mail address: commissioner@nysed.gov
Web address: www.nysed.gov

North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
1952/2015/F2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of degree-granting institutions of higher education in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, including the tribal institutions and the accreditation of programs offered via distance education and correspondence education within these institutions. This recognition extends to the Institutional Actions Council jointly with the Board of Trustees of the Commission for decisions on cases for continued accreditation or reaffirmation, and continued candidacy, and to the Appeals Body jointly with the Board of Trustees of the Commission for decisions related to initial candidacy or accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.

Barbara Gellman-Danley, President
230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500
Chicago, Illinois 60604-1413
Tel. (312) 263-0456, (800) 621-7440, Fax (312) 263-7462
E-mail address: bgdanley@hlcommission.org
Web address: www.hlcommission.org

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
1952/2015/S2016-C
Scope of recognition: The accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidacy status”) of postsecondary degree-granting educational institutions in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, and the accreditation of programs offered via distance education within these institutions.

Sandra E. Elman, President
8060 165th Avenue, NE, Suite 100
Redmond, Washington 98052
Tel. (425) 558-4224, Fax (425) 376-0596
E-mail address: selman@nwccu.org
Web address: www.nwccu.org

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
1952/2014/S2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of degree-granting institutions of higher education in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, including the accreditation of programs offered via distance and correspondence education within these institutions. This recognition extends to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees and the Appeals Committee of the College Delegate Assembly on cases of initial candidacy or initial accreditation and for continued accreditation or candidacy.

Belle S. Wheelan, President
1866 Southern Lane
Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097
Tel. (404) 679-4512, Fax (404) 994-6592
E-mail address: bwheelan@sacscoc.org
Web address: www.sacscoc.org

Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission
1991/2013/S2016
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidate” status) of Christian postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer certificates, diplomas, and associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degrees, including institutions that offer distance education.

Timothy W. Eaton, President
15935 Forest Road
Forest, Virginia 24551
Tel. (434) 525-9539, Fax (434) 525-9538
E-mail address: president@tracs.org
Web address: www.tracs.org

Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
1952/2015/S2017-C
Scope of recognition: The accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of community and other colleges with a primarily pre-baccalaureate mission located in California, Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which offer certificates, associate degrees, and the first baccalaureate degree by means of a substantive change review offered by institutions that are already accredited by the agency, and such programs offered via distance education and correspondence education at these colleges. This recognition also extends to the Committee on Substantive Change of the Commission, for decisions on substantive changes, and the Appeals Panel.

Barbara A. Beno, President
10 Commercial Boulevard, Suite 204
Novato, California 94949
Tel. (415) 506-0234, Fax (415) 506-0238
E-mail address: accjc@accjc.org
Web address: www.accjc.org

Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior Colleges and University Commission
1952/2012/F2017
Scope of recognition: the accreditation and preaccreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of senior colleges and universities in California, Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, including distance education programs offered at those institutions.

Mary Ellen Petrisko
President
985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100
Alameda, California 94501
Tel. (510) 748-9001, Fax (510) 748-9797
E-mail address: wasc@wascsenior.org
Web address: www.wascsenior.org

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