How to Avoid a Non-Accredited Graduate Program

Graduate schools that are accredited have been ascertained to meet certain generally accepted minimum standards in terms of delivery of high quality education. There are numerous accrediting bodies in this country, some of which accredit schools as a whole, such as the Higher Learning Commission. Others accredit individual programs, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. There are both national and regional accreditation bodies in this country. The regional ones include the:

  1. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  2. Northwest Association of Colleges and Schools
  3. Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  4. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  5. Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  6. New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Why Accreditation Matters

Accreditation can determine whether you will receive a return on investment on your education. If the school through which you obtained your degree is not accredited, then it is unlikely that any potential employers will accept it as proof of your skills either. But it isn’t just the school that should be accredited. The program that you will enroll in should be accredited as well.

Not only does accreditation matter in terms of you getting a job at your standard of education, it also matters if you want to receive financial aid. Whether you want to receive this from the FAFSA, through a bank loan, through scholarships, or through employer tuition, it is unlikely that you will receive it if your chosen school and program are not accredited.

How to Know Whether Your Graduate Program Is Accredited

Accreditation is something to be proud of. Hence, schools will usually make it very clear which body they are accredited with as a whole, and which bodies have accredited their programs. However, you do have to double check this, as accreditation has to be maintained as well. Each of the different accrediting bodies enables you to check whether the accreditation is still valid.

What Is a Diploma Mill?

Diploma mills are institutions that offer bogus or inauthentic degrees, diplomas, certificates, and education. They are not recognized in the workplace. Some, however, boast that they have accreditation, but it is likely that this is through an accreditation mill. These, in turn, are bodies that offer accreditation that is not recognized by the federal government. This means, again, that your degree will not be relevant either.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to recognize whether a school is a diploma mill or not. However, some red flags include the fact that:

  • They allow you to purchase certificates, diplomas, or degrees.
  • They claim to be accredited, but they have no proof of this.
  • They enable you to complete full degrees in a very short period of time.
  • They award you a degree based on a review of your resume.
  • They offer their education at a cost that is suspiciously low.
  • They do not have any information about their faculty or location.
  • They assert facts, make claims, or present statistics without any proof.

An accreditation mill, meanwhile, is equally difficult to recognize. However, again, there are some red flags to be aware of, including the fact that:

  • They allow accreditation status to be purchased.
  • They list universities, colleges, or programs that they have accredited, even if they haven’t.
  • They charge suspiciously high accreditation fees.
  • They claim to be recognized by CHEA or USDE, without being able to prove this.
  • They do not list any quality standards, or very few, used to guide their accreditation process.
  • They accredit in a very short time period.
  • They offer lifelong accreditation.

How to Avoid a Non-Accredited Graduate Program

There are several things you can do in order to avoid a non-accredited graduate program:

  1. Look out for the red flags mentioned above.
  2. Look up lists of schools and programs that are known not to be accredited. Not all of those schools are diploma mills, and many do not claim to have accreditation either. However, many are and do, and they will try to attract you by claiming accreditation. Lists are available in a variety of online places, including Wikipedia.
  3. Check the website of the school you are considering for their institutional and program accreditation. Then visit the website of the accrediting bodies and determine whether accreditation is still relevant or not.

International Accreditation

Accreditation basically does two things:

  1. Institutional accreditation tells you, as a student, that you are enrolled in a school that meets high educational standards and believes in delivering the academic knowledge required to become a specialist in a certain field.
  2. Program accreditation tells your future employers that you have completed a degree that meets the acceptable standards for that particular specialization.

Accrediting bodies are nationally recognized, which means that, if you complete an accredited program at an accredited university in Texas, you can take that degree to California and it will be recognized. You may have to complete a licensure examination for each state, but your degree itself will be valid regardless of where in the country you go. But what if you obtained your degree abroad? The U.S. Department of Education has set very high standards in terms of accepted accreditation, which the accrediting bodies in this country also have to stick to. Hence, if you have completed a degree abroad, it may be recognized here as well. Through credential evaluation services, which are independent bodies, accreditation of a program and validity of a degree can be investigated to determine whether or not it is recognized in this country as well.

Additional Resources