Why is College and University Accreditation Important?

During your college and university application process, one important factor to consider is whether the schools you are considering have received accreditation from a reputable independent accrediting agency. The United States Department of Education does not accredit schools or their programs. However, the United States Secretary of Education should recognize the accrediting agency.

How Does a School Earn Accreditation?

The accreditation process is voluntary on the part of the college or university. However, by going through this process, these schools hope to be endorsed as meeting an acceptable level of quality for their programs. This endorsement may be for a limited amount of time that will require the school to be reassessed at the end of that period. Once accreditation has been earned, the school may promote their acquired status in marketing to potential and current students.

Depending upon the accrediting agency, the college or university may be required to:

  • Comply with the standards set by the agency
  • Provide statistics regarding its financial status, student retention and employability rates
  • Develop and implement a plan of action for continued improvements
  • Allow the agency access for scheduled and unscheduled campus visits

Regional versus National – Which is Better?

There are six regional accreditation agencies that cover different sections of the country:

  • Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

National accrediting agencies are not based on where the school is located, but instead they are geared toward specific schools that may not offer a traditional curriculum or may be independent schools. Trade schools, religious institutions and some online schools may fall under this category. It would be difficult to compare traditional schools to non-traditional schools in terms of curriculum. Therefore, it is best to compare schools within the two types of agencies.

Additionally, there are specialized accreditations that are applied to specific programs that are offered by a college or university instead of the entire school. These include accreditations from the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association, among others.

Why Choose an Accredited School?

There are advantages to choosing an accredited school that may outweigh the tuition costs of choosing an accredited school. It may actually be less expensive because in order to qualify for federal grants or loans, the school must be accredited. These federal funds can greatly reduce the out-of-pocket cost to the student.

Credit transfer is less complicated if a student chooses to switch schools. Accreditation allows the next school to determine if the previous course credits earned are up to their standards. This helps prevent students from having to retake classes and delay graduation.

Attending an accredited school may help with employment in the future. When applying for a job, an employer may require proof that an applicant has completed a valid program of study. For those who are employed and want to continue their education, they may need to attend a college or university that is accredited in order to receive tuition reimbursement.

If you are beginning your college search, it may be worth your while to investigate what accreditations the colleges or universities you are applying to hold. Doing so now may alleviate disappointment in the future with your career choices or decision to pursue graduate studies.