What is Accreditation?

college graduate

You’ve heard about the importance of only choosing an accredited online college, when looking at online degree programs. Accreditation is very important, but many people don’t fully understand it. Knowing all its ins and outs can help you pick an online program that will open up doors for your career.

The Basics

Accreditation is a stamp of certification on a college or degree program which signals that it has been evaluated for quality. In accreditation, an accrediting body, a third-party nonprofit or professional group, looks at the university or program and ensures that its teaching and curriculum are up to their standards. Choosing an accredited college will help ensure that you only give your tuition money to a school that will give you a great education. (ca.gov)

Institutional vs. Programmatic Accreditation

There are two distinct types of accreditation that an online college can claim: institutional and programmatic. Each type of accreditation has different implications for your degree program.

In institutional accreditation, an entire college or university is evaluated by an accrediting body. Every department and the school as a whole are examined for quality. Institutional accreditation is done regionally; there are six different accrediting bodies for different parts of the country. For any school you are considering, it’s key that it has accreditation from one of these regional accrediting bodies.

Programmatic accreditation is a bit different. It applies only to specific programs or departments inside a school and not to the school as a whole. For certain programs, like nursing, it is important that your particular program also has programmatic accreditation. You can check the Bureau of Labor Statistics web page for your desired career, to see if programmatic accreditation is important in deciding which school and program you should choose. (ca.gov)

False Accreditation

Some fake online schools, called diploma mills, will claim accreditation from accreditation bodies that aren’t even real. This false accreditation is worthless and won’t be respected by employers. You can check if a school’s accreditations are legitimate at the Department of Education’s list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies.

These other signs can tip you off to a diploma mill as well:

• The only address the school lists is a P.O. box or suite number. (ed.gov)

• You can earn a degree in a very short period of time. (ed.gov)

• The program offers course credit for “life experience.” (ed.gov)