What are the Differences Between the Different Accrediting Bodies in the United States?

Accreditation of higher education in the United States occurs at three particular levels. The first of these, and easily the best known, is regional accreditation through one of eight regional educational bodies. Accreditation can also be pursued at the national level through several broader organizations, or certain kinds of schools can seek accreditation through a more program-focused group such as the American Bar Association. Each style of accreditation has a different focus, and therefore has a different impact on the quality and nature of a particular academic institution or program.

Regional Accreditation: A Look at What it Means for Higher Education

The most established method of accreditation in higher education is the regional method, which uses one of six distinct bodies that accredits an entire institution’s academic offerings. This is not a program-based approach, but rather one that verifies the quality and academic rigor of all of a school’s majors, minors, concentrations, and certificates.

Regional accreditation is generally applied to non-profit universities, including public universities granted state funding and private universities that are not-for-profit even without state-guaranteed funding levels. From east to west, the six major regional bodies are:

– New England Association of Colleges and Schools
– Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
– Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
– North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
– Northwest Accreditation Commission on Colleges and Universities
– Western Association of Schools and Colleges

National Accreditation Organizations: A For-Profit Approach

While regional accreditation bodies focus largely on non-profit schools, national programs tend to focus on schools that are designed to operate with an annual profit. For this reason, most national accreditation programs are focused on verifying the integrity and rigor of online or distance education programs, as well as schools with vocational programs or career-oriented certificate offerings. The Department of Education currently lists 5 accrediting agencies considered valid by the federal government:

– Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
– Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
– Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
– Council on Occupational Education
– Distance Education and Training Council

Specialized Accreditation Applies to Certain Degree Programs and Colleges

Finally, the third level of accreditation is perhaps the most specific. These programs focus on accrediting specific colleges or even specific degree programs. Some of the most recognized names in this area include the American Bar Association, which oversees everything from law degrees to paralegal programs, as well as the American Dental Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and more. Today, the specialized accrediting bodies recognized by the Department of Education include:

– Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
– American Bar Association
– American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation
– American Veterinary Medical Association
– Association of American Medical Colleges
– Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
– National Architectural Accrediting Board
– National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration

Accreditation by these bodies is required for dentists, lawyers, doctors, and even architects, if they hope to sit for licensing exams that permit them to practice within the profession. In other cases, like business programs and engineering work, accreditation is considered a prestigious added benefit but not a requirement for occupational success.

Accreditation Universally Spotlight Excellent, Rigorous Programs

The goal of accreditation is to ensure students are being challenged in the classroom and educated with the right skills for career success in the real world. Whether at the specialized, regional, or national levels, these officially recognized bodies make sure that’s the case across the board.