Higher Education Learning Course Accreditation in the United States
If you are about to choose a course of higher education, then it's worth considering carefully the credentials of the learning institute which provides the course. The best learning establishments are accredited and this means that they meet qualification requirements of a third party assessor. Don't accept accreditation by any other body other than the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or the Council of Higher Education (CHEA). Many institutions will tell you that they are accredited but neglect to tell you who by!
Accreditation covers 9 different functions:
- Verification of established standards
- Assisting students to identify acceptable schools and institutions
- Assisting institutions to determine if credit transfers are acceptable
- Helping to identify suitable institutions for investment by either public or private funds
- Protecting institutions from harmful pressures
- Helping in creating specific improvements amongst educational institutions
- Involving staff in evaluation and planning
- Establishing criteria for certification
- Providing eligibility for Federal assistance.
The basic goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education being provided meets acceptable quality levels and it's easy to see therefore that you should choose a suitably accredited learning provider to make sure the quality of education is appropriate. The accreditation also ensures that suitable facilities are available and this can make a huge difference in the standard of education provided. The other advantage of accreditation is that college credits can be transferred between accredited institutions and they will also be accepted by potential employees. If you need to switch schools, for any reason, part way through your course then it can a very disappointing experience to find that your school is not appropriately accredited and therefore you are unable to transfer learning credits between your current school and your new learning provider. The choice then becomes starting the course all over again or giving up, neither of which may be particularly palatable.
What happens during Accreditation?
The basic accreditation process consists of six basic steps:
Step 1: The accrediting agency sets and establishes the required standards
Step 2: The body seeking accreditation measures its own performance against the established standards
Step 3: The accreditation agency visits the institution and assesses how well the institution meets the established standards for itself.
Step 4: If the institution meets the requirements then the accrediting agency grants accreditation.
Step 5: The accrediting agency continues to monitor the institution throughout the period of accreditation to ensure that it continues to meet the required standards.
Step 6: The accreditation agency re-evaluates the institution at regular intervals to ensure continued accreditation is warranted.
Regional or National Accreditation?
Accreditation is either regional or national. The most accepted accreditation is regional and there are eight agencies that are currently recognized by both USDE and CHEA and these are:
- MSA) Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- (NEASC) New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Technical and Career Institutions
- (NCA) North Central Association of Colleges and Schools The Higher Learning Commission
- (NWCCU) Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- (SACS) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- (WASC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Some schools are specifically accredited to certain standards such as particular careers or faiths and this is a national accreditation. Don't forget to check that such accreditation is with the USDE or the CHEA and not some other organization that you do not recognize. If you are in doubt then pick a learning institute that is regionally accredited. Some of the regionally accredited schools will also not accept credits from nationally accredited schools and this point is worth checking before embarking on a course of study.
In summary, the responsibility for checking that a learning institution is appropriately accredited is yours and yours alone. Take the time to check and make sure that the required accreditation is in place before committing to a time consuming and expensive course of study. The time taken will be well worthwhile.