The Ultimate Guide to Online University Accreditation
Many college guides tell students to start by researching a school’s accreditation, especially with online schools, but few actually explain what it means to be accredited. What kind of accreditation does a university need? Why is accreditation important? How can students research accreditation?
The Concept of Accreditation
If you attend College A, you might not get the same level of education as if you attend College B. Although one college better prepares you to work in your field, both colleges give you a bachelor’s degree, so employers have no way of knowing which educational program was better. To fix this problem, accreditation was introduced. While College A still might be better than College B, to be accredited, all schools have to at least meet minimum standards. This way, employers can be sure that all of their candidates have been through a good educational program in their field, even if they’ve never heard of the college.
Accreditation is especially important for online colleges. When distance learning first became a possibility on the Internet, a number of sites popped up, offering degrees to students. Many were scams. Some, called diploma mills essentially offered a degree in exchange for money, regardless of the work completed. Others just collected money from students and disappeared. Accreditation allows a student to ensure that these types of scams aren’t happening.
The United States government does not accredit universities, either online or off, but they do maintain a list of approved accrediting agencies. Accrediting agencies are third parties without affiliation to any specific school. You can contact accrediting agencies directly to find out if the school that interests you is accredited. Most online universities will clearly post who has accredited their programs, so you can check with those specific agencies and also make sure that those agencies are nationally recognized.
Types of Accrediting
Overall, a college is typically accredited by a regional program. These accrediting programs look at the overall education provided by the school. However, you may also want to look at specific course accreditation. This is especially important if you’re going to school in a field where you’ll have to be licensed after graduation. For example, your online university might be regionally accredited, but is the nursing program accredited by one of the national nursing associations? If not, regional accreditation means nothing, since you still won’t be able to get your license.
Unaccredited Schools’ Value
Although there certainly still are scams online when it comes to providing education, not all unaccredited schools are worthless. In fact, many do provide solid programs for students. Universities might not go through the accreditation process for a number of reasons, so find out why a school hasn’t been accredited before you decide not to attend. In addition, the accreditation process takes time, so a new school might have a great education program, but have a pending accreditation. These are schools you should consider if accreditation isn’t necessary for you to be certified or licensed in your field.
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