College accreditation is one of the most important factors prospective students should consider when choosing a school or degree program.
Inadequate accreditation, or no accreditation at all, can affect students’ financial aid opportunities, transfer of credits to other institutions, and even prospects for employment or further education.
Whether considering an on-campus option or an online program such as Eastern Kentucky University’s online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety degree, students should understand accreditation and its importance before making a decision.
College accreditation is the process by which institutions and their programs are evaluated for educational quality.
Third-party authorities called accrediting agencies conduct comprehensive reviews, taking into account a school’s academic standards as well as the qualifications and teaching ability of instructors. The accreditors, in turn, are overseen by a government agency, usually the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and occasionally by offices at the state level.
“Accreditation is intended to assure constituents and the public of the quality and integrity of higher education institutions and programs, and to help those institutions and programs improve,” according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC), one of six regional accrediting agencies. “These outcomes are achieved through rigorous internal and external review processes during which the institution is evaluated against a common set of standards.”
Accreditation is voluntary and most schools seek it out. Schools that receive federal financial aid have to be accredited by a DOE-recognized accrediting agency, US News & World Report explains in its article, “Consider School Accreditation When Determining A College’s Value.”
“If the agency isn’t up to par,” according to the article, “then the schools using that agency can’t receive aid – and most schools require federal aid to attract students.”
The difference between accredited and unaccredited schools or programs can be significant.
“While some unaccredited programs might offer valuable learning experiences, not all educational offerings are created equal,” according to CollegesandDegrees.com. “Accreditation can make the difference between embarking on an exciting career path, or being saddled with debt and worthless credits.”
Accreditation falls into three categories: regional, national, and programmatic.
Regional acknowledgment is considered the gold standard. Most two- and four-year non-profit or public (state-owned) colleges and universities have regional accreditation. As the name suggests, regional accreditors focus on a specific geographic area. Regionally accredited schools tend to be more academically rigorous than those with other types of accreditation. They also generally accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions, but may not do the same for nationally accredited programs.
The SACS COC, which is the accrediting body for Eastern Kentucky University and all of its on-campus and online programs, is one of six regional accrediting agencies. The others are:
The DOE also recognizes the Board of Regents of the State of New York as an accrediting body.
Reputable online schools, as well as distance programs offered by traditional campuses, undergo the same rigorous accreditation process by CHEA- or DOE-recognized agencies as on-campus programs.
The second type of accreditation is national, which most often applies to career-oriented schools. Such institutions also may be less expensive and also may have more relaxed admission standards than regionally accredited schools.
The five national accrediting agencies are:
Some schools, as well as many programs at schools with overall regional accreditation, also seek programmatic accreditation for certain programs or for their online offerings. Programmatic (also called specialized) accreditation, “normally applies to the evaluation of programs, departments, or schools which usually are parts of a total collegiate or other postsecondary institution,” according to the DOE.
To verify accreditation, start with the school’s website. The information is usually listed on an accreditation page and may even have its own heading on the home page. Programs with specialized accreditation may be listed on the accreditation page or with the individual programs.
The DOE website offers additional information, as well as a searchable database.
Beware of schools that are not accredited or whose accreditation is questionable. They could be diploma mills – institutions that offer degrees for a price. Other red flags may include:
Eastern Kentucky University’s online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program helps students learn how to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks. Taught by industry-experienced safety professionals, the program is fully accredited and prepares graduates to become leaders in the field of occupational safety.
U.S. Department of Education: https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg2.html