College Accreditation Questions Answered
If you’ve ever looked into colleges, you may have run across something called an “accreditation”. Military and veteran students must understand a school’s accreditation, as it directly impacts their future employability.
Defining the Term
The Department of Education is the governing body responsible for the governance and oversight of post-secondary institutions. According to their website, accreditation means “the status of public recognition that an accrediting agency grants to an educational institution or program that meets the agency’s standards and requirements.” Meaning, it is a mark of approval given to a school for meeting basic standards.
Believe it or not, the DOE does not have as much control over our institutions of higher learning as we believe. The Higher Education Act of 1965 gives the department the responsibility of ensuring students are prepared to attend their colleges of choice, but it is prohibited by Congress from exerting any further control. As stated in The Department of Education Organization Act,
“No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.”
Okay. So the Department of Education does not get directly involved in oversight. Then who does?
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Accreditors are independent, membership-based organizations that rely on peer review to ensure that member institutions meet certain standards for academic quality. The accreditors ensure that students have access to qualified instructors and an adequate curriculum.
However, accreditation is not required for a college to offer instruction or grant academic degrees. Most of the time, the power to grant an institution the privilege of granting degrees comes from the states themselves. So why would an institution feel compelled to obtain an accreditation? Money is often the answer.
How Does That Affect You?
In order for an institution to participate in the Title IV Federal Student Aid programs, they must have a regional or national accreditation. Without being able to accept student aid, most schools would have a hard time attracting and retaining students, which ultimately means that the school would not continue to operate. Not every school has a multi-billion dollar endowment like Harvard.
Even so, without accreditation, a college or university would not be able to offer the “accredited” degree that most employers require. Further, if the degree will not increase employment prospects, then why waste your time getting a degree since there are tons of IT jobs that don’t require them.
Because there is a regulatory body that grants approval through rigorous review and oversight, the institutions themselves are held to a higher standard. If they meet this standard, they obtain an accreditation. It is also possible for schools to have more than one accreditation.
While there is only one Department of Education, there are numerous accrediting agencies, some of which have geographic requirements. Remember, these are membership based, so colleges and universities have to apply for accreditation from each agency they wish to join. The body involved at all levels of educational accreditation is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or CHEA. In some cases, an accreditation will be recognized by the Department of Education, but not by CHEA.
National Level Accrediting Agencies
Sample of some national level accrediting agencies.
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
- National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc. (NACCAS)
Regional Accrediting Agencies
Most colleges you attend will have a regional accreditation, which is simply an approval from an agency that oversees a particular region of the country. Some of these are:
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
Curriculum-Specific Accrediting Agencies
Other accrediting agencies are curriculum specific, so in order for an institution to offer accredited programs, they must also be members of that corresponding agency. For example:
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
These are just a few, and there are many. This illustrates the depth and breadth that agencies outside the school can impact a veteran’s education.
Regional vs. Nation Accreditation: Which is Better?
Regionally accredited schools are the most prestigious of the two. They are generally more expensive with a more selective admissions process. Additionally, these types of schools are usually non-profit schools and require fundraising, private donations, or federal grants to meet their financial needs.
A nationally accredited school may be less expensive, but their admissions process is more relaxed. This is likely because they represent most career, vocational, and technical programs. Schools in this category are usually for-profit institutions, which means they earn money from enrollments and the sale of educational products. They may also have shareholders, like investors, who monitor the revenue the school earns.
Why Accreditation is Important
There are three major reasons why an institution’s accreditation is important.
One of the major differences between regional and national accreditation is the transferability of credits.
A regionally accredited institution only accepts credits from other regionally accredited schools. Whereas, a nationally accredited school, can take credit from either nationally or regionally accredited schools.
Keep in mind that some schools can have a regional accreditation, while some of their programs, like Nursing, can also hold a national certification. These are programmatic accreditations and they cover specialized and professional programs of study.
As mentioned above, students will be unable to receive federal financial aid if their school is NOT regionally or nationally accredited. An institution must be Title-IV eligible to accept financial aid from a student’s enrollment.
More than half of all employers run background checks on job applicants, and often those checks confirm educational credentials. By completing a program from an accredited institution, military veterans show future employers that they have requisite skills from a legitimate program of study.
In the long run, and especially with most institutions offering online courses these days, you may never run across an accrediting issue while you’re attending school.
However, some institutions can lose their accreditation if they do not pass a periodic review. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often.
For military veterans looking to use GI Bill benefit at an institution, ensure it is accredited. According to the VA’s Principles of Excellence, a program must be accredited before they will send a dime to that institution.
If you are going into a specialty program like nursing, counseling, architecture, et cetera, then make sure that your intended program has an accreditation from that professional agency. Some programs may even require more than one.
You should ask for proof of an institution’s accreditation. Most will have it on their website, but if you can’t find it, ask. A school must disclose their lack of accreditation, even if that means losing out on enrollment.
In the end, you, the student, are the beneficiary of the accreditation process. For while your program will last but a short time, the quality ensured by these accrediting agencies guarantees that your education is the best it could be while you are there.
(Image by Bill Davenport from freeimages)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.