Accreditation is a non-governmental, professional peer review process by which educational institutions and programs are provided technical assistance and are evaluated for quality based on pre-established academic and administrative standards. It is a process that assures the educational community and the general public that an institution or a program has clearly defined and appropriate objectives and maintains conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected. Accreditation encourages improvement through continuous self-study and review and fosters excellence in postsecondary education through the development of principles and guidelines for assessing educational effectiveness and ethical business practices.
Functions of Accreditation
- Certify that an institution or program has met established standards.
- Assist prospective students in identifying acceptable institutions.
- Assist institutions in determining the acceptability of transfer credit.
- Help to identify institutions and programs for the investment of public and private funds.
- Protect an institution against harmful internal and external pressure.
- Creat goals for self-improvement of weaker programs and stimulating a general rising of standards among educational institutions.
- Involve the faculty and staff comprehensively in evaluation and planning.
- Establish criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation.
- Provide one of several considerations used as a basis for determining eligibility for Federal financial aid assistance.
Types of Accreditation
There are two basic types of educational accreditation: “institutional” and “specialized” or “programmatic.”
“Institutional” accreditation applies to the entire institution, indicating that each of an institution’s parts is contributing to the achievement of the institutions objectives. Institutional accrediting bodies are either regional or national. The first difference between the two types is one of geographical scope. As their names suggest, the regional accreditors concentrate on a specific area of the country, while the national accreditors are available to any interested institution.
Another difference is their history and focus. The regional accrediting bodies started as leagues of traditional colleges and universities in a specific area. Historically, these institutions prepare individuals for an advanced degree. The national accrediting bodies started as associations of institutions with a common theme and usually accredit institutions with career-focused curriculum.
“Specialized” or “programmatic” accreditation normally applies to programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an institution. Programs such as law, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, and business are examples of programs requiring specialized accreditation.
Accreditation does not provide automatic acceptance by an institution of credit earned at another institution, nor does it give assurance of acceptance of graduates by employers. Acceptance of students or graduates is always the prerogative of the receiving institutions or employer. For these reasons, students should take additional measures to determine, prior to enrollment, whether or not their educational goals will be met through attendance at a particular institution. These measures should include inquiries to institutions to which transfer might be desired or to prospective employers and, if possible, personal inspection of the institutions at which enrollment is contemplated.
To ensure the school you are considering is accredited by a reliable accrediting agency; the accreditor should be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Additional information about accreditation and a listing of recognized accreditors can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
However, you can still receive a quality education from a non-accredited school. A number of postsecondary institutions have legitimate reasons for not seeking accreditation. For example, accreditation is a lengthy process. Accreditors require an institution to operate successfully for a number of years to determine its viability before it will consider if for accreditation.
Institutions focusing on vocational training programs may choose not to seek accreditation and still offer widely accepted certifications. Their reputation and curriculum may be deemed superior by the community, as well as the workforce. In the end, each student must decide the value of the education the institution provides and the benefits he/she will receive from its programs.
Read an Explanation of Certification