Is Accreditation Different for Online and On-ground Schools?

Online education opportunities represent a way for people who can’t get to a college campus to obtain high level education; however, these online classrooms aren’t always an education miracle. Before any research on price, course selection, or reputation begins, the first step is figuring out whether an online school is nationally (or regionally) accredited.

Bodies Responsible for Granting Accreditation

The United States Department of Education decides which organizations may operate as a nationally-recognized group for accreditation. The Dept. of Ed. defines several different standards required of educational facilities before accreditation may be granted.

Those criteria are defined by the government, but there are also non-governmental agencies involved in the process of granting such status. Not only are schools vetted through a strict accreditation process, but the non-governmental accreditation partners are also put through the rigors of application, to ensure the process is sincere and open.

Standards Guiding Accreditation

There is an exceptionally long list of standards required for an educational institution to gain accredited status, and an online university must meet the same standards as a “brick and mortar” educational facility.

Some of the school characteristics examined by accreditation groups include:

  • Administration
  • Curriculum
  • Equipment
  • Facilities
  • Faculty
  • Fiscal capacity (money)
  • Student support
  • Supplies

Upon examination of each of these (and other) facets of the school, the group responsible for granting accreditation will need to evaluate the school based upon three major standards:

1. Degree programs match or exceed national standards
2. Meets stated objectives for student achievement
3. Consistent in the application of stated education objectives
Researching Accreditation Status

One of the best resources to consider when figuring out whether a school is officially accredited in some capacity is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This national association is comprised of more than 3,000 institutions of higher learning.

The group provides a wealth of knowledge regarding “degree mills” or “accreditation mills,” which are a phenomenon that many groups consider a significant problem in today’s online education environment.

Foreign Schools Not Covered

The internet might be officially known as the “World Wide Web,” but accreditation does not extend worldwide, regarding the Dept. of Ed. and its list of accredited educational institutions. Although the majority of non-US schools aren’t given accreditation under the American system, there is one area of exception to this rule.

Medical schools on foreign soil are investigated by the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation. This type of accreditation allows foreign medical personnel to find jobs in the United States.

One of the primary reasons why determining whether a school is accredited or not is so essential is because of the cost of education today. Not only will education often require financial assistance of the average student, but a worthless degree and unpaid student loans may follow a student around for years or even decades before the damage can be repaired. Only consider an online university or school that is properly accredited just as an offline school would be through the U.S. Department of Education.