The Low-Down on Accreditation

While there are many factors to consider before selecting an online degree program, accreditation is arguably the most important qualification to look for in an e-learning institution. This article will help you understand what accreditation is, how a virtual school earns accreditation, why it is important, and where you can find out whether your school has received accreditation.

What is it?

The U.S. Department of Education states that "The goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality." In other words, accreditation is a process of review in which an accrediting agency verifies the quality of the institution's operations and academics. For instance, the commission confirms that the school's academic goals were well formed, its educational programs are designed to deliver high-quality education, and its objectives are being successfully met.

Not only does accreditation ensure the quality of an institution's academics, but it also motivates the school to improve the quality of its education through self-evaluation. After a school receives accreditation, it must continue to abide by the criteria that are established by the accrediting commission.

What Sorts Are There?

There are three main types of accrediting agencies: regional, national and programmatic. Regional accrediting agencies generally grant accreditation to non-profit, academically focused institutions. National accrediting agencies grant accreditation to for-profit schools that offer technical or vocational programs.

Programmatic, specialized, or professional accreditors evaluate academic programs that offer a specific degree (For instance, law schools in most states must receive accreditation from the American Bar Association before their students are allowed to sit for the bar exam).

Why Do I Need It?

Perhaps the single most important reason for a school to pursue accreditation is credibility. Accreditation brings recognition to virtual institutions for having met the standards set by accrediting commissions and serves as an indicator of quality for educators, counselors, federal agencies, and the general public.

Federal, state, and local agencies often give special recognition to accredited online schools by referring students there. Several states even grant accredited schools special status under legislation and regulations.

Faculty and staff members of accredited schools also have the opportunity to serve on accrediting examining committees that evaluate other institutions. This is a valuable professional development opportunity.

Newspapers, magazines, radio shows, television, and online advertising mediums are more willing to publish advertisements for accredited versus non-accredited schools, because, generally speaking, the public favors accredited institutions over those that are non-accredited.

Accreditation is not only a boon to the institution and its faculty and staff, but also to the student body. Those who attend accredited institutions will be eligible for federal financial aid, whereas students who attend non-accredited institutions will not be eligible. Attending an accredited school also significantly improves the likelihood that a graduate or transfer student's academic credits will be accepted at other academic institutions.

How Do I Find Out if a School is Accredited?

You can easily find out whether an online school is accredited by consulting an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or by searching The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Article Resources:
ED.gov 
Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation
World Online Education Accrediting Commission

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