If you are looking for a college to enroll at, you will need to look into accreditation. Accreditation is very important, because it may mean that you can move whatever credits you have earned to a different college should you wish to switch schools, or should you wish to go for a more advanced degree at a later stage. However, accreditation is quite complex, so read on to gain a better understanding.
An Overview of Regional and National Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary designation that schools can achieve. If they have accreditation, it tells you, as a prospective student, that the education provided there is of high quality. Accrediting bodies are completely independent, and they are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE). They examine the educational establishment and if it is accredited, students and potential employers alike can be certain that the program, certificate, or degree has met high educational standards.
Schools are not accredited by the federal government. Rather, the DoE officially recognizes accrediting agencies and, if they give accreditation, the school they gave it to. Certain accrediting agencies, such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a nonprofit agency, are able to accredit a school in its entirety. This means they have received “institutional accreditation”. Within schools, however, degree programs and certificates can also be individually accredited. This may or may not be delivered by the same accrediting body that provided the institutional accreditation.
There are also accreditation agencies that only work in a certain geographical region. Others work all over the country. This is where the difference between regionally accredited and nationally accredited agencies comes in.
All types of degrees, including associate, bachelor, master, and doctorate, can be accredited. Each accrediting body will set its own requirements for accreditation.
What Is Regional Accreditation?
Regionally accredited colleges tend to be nonprofit schools that grant degrees, and they will be in a specific geographical area. This includes nonprofit educational institutions such as universities and state schools. Some private colleges, although only if they are nonprofit, may also seek regional accreditation.
It is common for a regionally accredited school to refuse credits from nationally accredited schools. The reason for this is that the latter tend to be given to vocationally focused, for profit schools. Hence, if you want to transfer from nationally accredited to regionally accredited, you do have to ask about credit transfers first.
On job application forms and more, you will often come across a question asking whether or not you attended an accredited university. Usually this means that they are looking for regional accreditation. The DoE has reported that over 85% of colleges and universities in this country are now regionally accredited.
There are some clear benefits to attending a regionally accredited school, including the fact that:
- It is the gold standard of accreditation, which means you have a more prestigious degree.
- It is widely recognized, and you should be able to move to any other school in the country, if not abroad.
- It is not just your credits, but also your degree in full is likely to be accepted in a transfer.
- If you are part of a corporate tuition reimbursement plan, a regionally accredited program is eligible.
- Most courses are instructor-led.
That said, there are some drawbacks as well, including the fact that:
- The course is more likely to be a lot more costly than one with a national accreditation.
- You will usually have to focus more on liberal arts.
- The programs are often less career orientated.
- Admission standards could be a lot more competitive.
What Is National Accreditation?
Usually, a nationally accredited school is a for profit school, with a strong focus on career. They are also often distance learning schools and many are affiliated with religious institutions. There are also many nationally accredited schools that failed to make the standards for degree programs. As a result, they may only offer certificates.
You should not, however, confuse national accreditation with a national accreditation agency. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has outlined that there is a big difference between these two. While national accreditation agencies are called “national”, this is only because they don’t focus on one geographical location alone. They also focus on trade schools, vocational schools, career schools, and more. The CHEA has recognized a number of different national accreditation agencies, with the most popular ones being the:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS)
- Distance Education & Training Council (DETC)
There are some clear benefits to attending a nationally accredited school, such as:
- They tend to be the more affordable alternative.
- You might not have to focus as much on liberal arts.
- Your majors are more likely to be career orientated and practical coursework.
- The admission standards are usually not as high.
However, there are also significant drawbacks to a nationally accredited programs:
- Your credits are unlikely to be accepted if you want to transfer them to a regionally accredited school later in life.
- Many professions where licensure is required do not accept this type of accreditation. These include careers in health care, engineering, accounting, and teaching, for instance.
- It may not be eligible for a corporate tuition plan reimbursement.
- Many courses are self-study, with little to no support from tutors.
How to Choose between the Two
One of the main factors for people choosing between the two is affordability. While we all want to have a high quality education, being able to pay or it is vital. The online MBA Rankings list released by GetEducated.com has stated that an MBA with regional accreditation costs $25,869.48 on average. Compare this to the cost of a nationally accredited MBA, which averages as $12,700, and it is easy to see why people would choose a national accreditation instead. The difference of about $13,000 is a lot of money, after all.
Another factor of importance is that the admissions requirements for regionally accredited universities tend to be a lot stricter. This means that an individual’s GPA usually has to be higher. Furthermore, they are more likely to require a GMAT or GRE examination for entrance.
On the other hand, the most common complaint against nationally accredited universities, is that their degrees are often not accepted when they enter the workforce. Hence, they may find that rather than enjoying a savings of $13,000, they have actually wasted $12,700.
So Which Is Really Better?
The problem is that it is hard to define what “better” means. As such:
- When considering ease of admission and affordability, nationally accredited schools are better.
- When considering university acceptance, credit transfer, and academic reputation, regionally accredited schools are better.
Only you can decide which considerations matter the most to you, and therefore decide where to enroll.