Many students are confused about what accreditation means. That’s understandable. But it’s important to learn about how both online universities and traditional colleges get the “stamp of approval” that comes with accreditation, and to find out what level of accreditation your chosen school has before you sign your first tuition check. Some schools have only some online accredited courses or majors, but don’t have blanket accreditation for all the programs they offer.
Whether you’re pursuing an associates, undergraduate, masters or graduate degree, it’s advisable that you make sure you’re taking 100% accredited online courses. You don’t want to get an accounting degree, for example, from a school and then find that the nursing program is the only accredited degree your school offers.
Key To A Good Job
Employers won’t take your degree very seriously if it’s from a non-accredited institution. Accreditation is sometimes less important for certificate-type programs or online career training schools. But although employers now hire lots of people who gotten degrees through distance learning, they defiantly want to see that this type of degree came from an accredited online college.
The problem is that there’s no single accreditation agency that provides online colleges and universities, or even traditional campus-based schools, with any kind of national accreditation. That’s true whether you’re attending live classes or pursuing an online degree. Educators have debated for years about whether a national authority should be created to certify all the accredited colleges and universities in America in a standardized way. But right now, college accreditation is given out by several different, and disconnected groups that look at most schools based on geographic location.
Top Accrediting Groups
The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) does, however, control accreditation indirectly, by giving only a few organizations the right to certify which schools are providing accredited online college courses, classroom based courses, or full-scale degree programs
Seven major regional associations have been given this authority by the USDE, and you can use those groups as a resource when if you’re researching brick and mortar schools, a list of accredited online degree colleges, degree completion programs, continuing education or particular online courses you want to take:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Learning
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Two other organizations focus more specifically on accrediting online degree schools. They are:
1) The Distance Education & Training Council (DETC), which rates and approves college degrees online from accredited colleges in about 70 different locations. DETC is the largest accrediting authority focused entirely on online college degree programs.
2) The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools. (Read more on How credible are the accreditation agencies?)
Students looking for very specific college online career development courses need to “connect the dots” on accreditation. In some states, you’ll be unable to get a teacher’s license, for example, if your online degree is from a school that’s not accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). State organizations that give licenses to practice law, engineering or even to teach at the higher education level (college) will also, in many cases, require that you have a degree from a school accredited by a specific professional board.
Diploma Mills & “State Schools”
Unfortunately, there are definitely a number of shady online learning providers out there, who have become more and more skilled at making themselves appear to be accredited when they’re not. A good example would be the phony “state approved” schools, which are cropping up all over the place. In many cases, being “state approved” means only that the school has a license to operate in a state, not that they have actually been approved to give an accredited bachelor online degree or even a single accredited online course.
“Diploma Mills” are fake schools that simply sell college diplomas. They’ve been around for years, but the ability to “sell” and online degree from in invisible location has, unfortunately, helped them grow and prosper. They usually offer a diploma for a lump sum without requiring you to study online or in a classroom, often using high-pressure sales tactics to get you to sign on.
A more subtle kind of diploma mill that’s become popular is the school that gives you an online degree for your “life experience,” without asking you to undertake any additional study. Be aware that many of these schools will claim to be “nationally accredited” or “accredited worldwide.” These are both ways of saying that the schools are accredited by fake agencies. If your school is not accredited by one of the official groups noted above, look to a different school that’s giving bona fide online accredited degrees.
Do Your Homework
Accreditation can be confusing, but it’s worth taking time to learn about it. The Council for Higher Education is an agency that does oversight of accreditation agencies. You can check up on any school or accredited online courses you’re considering at their website: www.chea.org
For more research help to find a valid online degree, try our Resources for checking accreditation of online schools