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College Accreditation Facts For Online Learners

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Your academic accomplishments and credentials have to be sharpened and kept up-to-date in order to advance professionally. Online education offers working adults the means to attend academic programs they might otherwise find inaccessible. Over four million people have enrolled in distance education courses during 2005 - 2006 according to the U.S. Department of Education. Online degree programs have become widely acceptable to employers and qualify for the same federal student aid programs traditional schools do. It`s important for you to get the academic qualifications you need in order to achieve your professional goals, and it is equally important that the degree you spent time, effort, and money to achieve has value.

The best way to ensure the degree you earn has value is by earning a degree from a college or university having accreditation which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

We`re going to explain why accreditation matters and help you protect the value of your degree by showing you how to find accredited online schools as well as how to protect yourself from phony ones. Let`s get started...

What is accreditation?

The U.S. Government does not regulate, operate, or charter educational institutions, and therefore standards and quality of academic programs can vary considerably. Accreditation is a voluntary process by which the academic quality and services offered by the institution seeking accreditation are measured against strict standards established by private, nongovernmental accrediting agencies, and accreditation or pre-accreditation status is either awarded or denied.

Accreditation reflects the fact that in achieving recognition by the accrediting agency, the institution or program is committed to self-study and external review by one`s peers in seeking not only to meet standards but to continuously seek ways in which to enhance the quality of education and training provided.

Accrediting agencies evaluate whether the institution seeking accreditation status meets established standards of quality for a variety of differing factors, including but not limited to:

  1. The caliber of faculty and education available
  2. The quality of the school`s library
  3. Student admission requirements and support services
  4. The school`s objectives, goals, and mission
  5. The school`s resources and how they are allocated
  6. The financial stability of the school

Institutions meeting these standards and others as determined by the accrediting agency are granted accreditation. Accrediting agencies then conduct periodic reviews of the schools they accredit to ensure they remain worthy of continued accreditation.

There are few laws that govern the establishment of accrediting agencies, so it is not unheard of for a bogus school to claim to be "accredited". Therefore, online students need to ascertain whether or not the school they plan to attend has received accreditation from an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. We`ll explain the importance of that a bit later when we discuss why accreditation matters, but for now let`s continue learning more about accreditation.

In the U.S., colleges and universities are accredited by one of 19 recognized institutional accrediting organizations. Programs are accredited by one of approximately 60 recognized programmatic accrediting organizations. [Accrediting organizations that are “recognized” have been reviewed for quality by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE)

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, (CHEA), is a private, nonprofit national organization that coordinates accreditation activity in the United States. They serve as the primary national voice for voluntary accreditation and quality assurance to the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Secretary of Education publish`s a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit. The primary purpose of USDE recognition is to assure that federal student aid funds are purchasing quality courses and programs.

Why does accreditation matter?

1. Federal Financial Aid Eligibility: The federal government requires that an institution be accredited or granted preaccredited status by a nationally recognized accrediting organization in order for its students to be eligible to participate in Federal student financial assistance programs or veteran`s benefits.

2. Quality Assurance: Accreditation by recognized accrediting agencies assure prospective students and employers that an institution or program meets established standards.

3. Tuition Assistance Plans: Many employers that offer tuition assistance benefits to employees require that eligible courses be accredited in order to qualify for plan benefits.

4. Ability to Transfer Credits: Accreditation helps determine the acceptability of transfer credits. College Credit received from unaccredited schools may not be recognized or valued by the school you would like to transfer to.

5. Ability to Attend Grad School: If your undergraduate degree was earned at an unaccredited institution you run the risk that the graduate school you would like to attend won`t recognize your degree.

6. Professional Licensure: Certain professions such as medicine, nursing, law, and engineering, require licensure in order to practice. Most license granting authorities require the applicant to have graduated from an accredited school or program in order to be eligible take licensing exams or become licensed.

7. Employment Eligibility: Most private employers, public school systems, and government agencies require job applicants to have degrees from accredited institutions in order to be eligible for employment or advancement.

Is the school I am interested in accredited?

Lack of accreditation does not necessarily mean that a college, university, or program lacks merit since the initial accreditation process is costly, (sometimes costing as much as $100,000), and can take as long as ten years. Distance learners must know how to distinguish an accredited school from one isn`t in order to protect themselves from degree mills, accreditation mills, and other scams that proliferate online. Legitimate institutions of higher education are proud of their accreditation status and list it along with the name of the list the accrediting agency that granted it in a prominent place on their web site and publications.

RNDegrees.net carefully screens our education partners to ensure that the college and university programs we feature have accreditation which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Is the accreditation legitimate?

Any institution can claim to be "accredited", but not all accreditation has value. Degree Mills, (also called Diploma Mills), frequently circumvent the accreditation process and make themselves appear to be legitimate by calling themselves accredited when in fact the "accrediting agency" granting "accreditation" to the phony school is either nonexistent or an impressive sounding invention of the "school" itself. It is vitally important that online students be able to know that the accrediting agency which granted accreditation to the online school you are considering attending is legitimate and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

The following regional accrediting agencies are currently recognized by the U.S. Department of Education:

  • 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, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities

There are also many other national, professional and specialized accrediting bodies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Start by checking your prospective school through the U.S. Department of Education`s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Then be sure to check the CHEA Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations, which contains information about more than 7,000 institutions and 17,000 programs in the U.S.

Some accrediting organizations and their institutions and programs appear in both the CHEA database and the USDE database. Others may appear in one but not both. Whether in the CHEA or USDE database, accrediting organizations identified in the database have been “recognized.” 


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