A Beginner's Guide to College Accreditation

June 10, 2013 ·

Where to go to college is a huge decision: it can be one of the biggest investments you will ever make. Students shell out big bucks and most incur a substantial amount of debt, based on the hope of getting a better-paying job later down the road.


Quite a few students are the first person in their family to go to college, and probably have no idea where to begin. The parents of others obtained their higher education in a different era, and the older generation may be just as lost about how to counsel their sons and daughters.


If a student is concerned about the possibility of wasting money, one of the things to look at when making the big decision is potential schools’ accreditations.


1. Who does it?


One of the primary questions about the accreditation process is: Who decides? Schools voluntarily choose to participate in the accreditation process. Being accredited works in their favor when it comes to helping students decide where to spend their money.


Most schools receive accreditation from one of six regional agencies. The regions are divided geographically, and each school has to go through the correct channels. The six regions consist of the middle states, New England states, western states, northwest states, north central states, and southern states.


If you visit each agency’s website you’ll find a list of the schools they have accredited. Each board is made up of peer reviewers that are faculty members from previously accredited schools.


2. What does it involve?


It’s important to note that schools voluntarily go after accreditation; it is not mandated. The schools apply to their appropriate regional agency, and they must fulfill the requirements it sets.


The educational programs are evaluated on their quality and consistency. If the school is awarded the accreditation, it has to continue to maintain the standards or else the accreditation can be taken away.


3. How does a school get graded?


Colleges are evaluated on a variety of criteria. These usually include the overall mission of the school, as well as its objectives and goals. Some universities have achieved Tier 1 status, others may still be currently working on it.


The regional accreditation agencies also evaluate admissions requirements for the students and the services and resources available to them after they get in. Then they take a look at the overall quality of the education those students are receiving and the reputation of the faculty based on research and publications.


Online accreditation standards are similarly rigorous, due to a growing emphasis on distance learning and online education. These schools need to be up to snuff as well, in order to protect the students who choose to go that route.


4. Why get accredited?


Getting accreditation is a big undertaking for a school, and it requires a lot of effort from the faculty and staff of the university. So why do schools put themselves through this?


It’s a way to make sure that students get the proper education. There are unaccredited schools that take advantage of students for their money and have been dubbed diploma mills. Getting a degree from an accredited school reassures potential employers that graduates possess an acceptable level of knowledge and skills.

Unaccredited schools do not offer that same level of confidence to potential employers. Students spend money at these schools and then cannot get the jobs they want because of the low quality of the education they received. In general, students also receive less financial aid because the unaccredited schools do not get the same public funding as accredited schools.


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