College Accreditation: Frequently Asked Questions

College Accreditation
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It is important to determine the type of accreditation needed for your field of study. After regional accreditation, specialized/professional accreditation may be required.

What Other Types of College Accreditation Are There?
Generally, large well-known universities (i.e., Harvard and Princeton) and statewide colleges are regionally accredited. Smaller, private colleges may be nationally accredited (programs that are nationally accredited may not transfer to a regionally accredited college.) Programs of study that are regulated by national or state licensing boards may require specialized or professional accreditation (i.e., the National Council for Accredition of Teacher Education and the American Bar Association). The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) maintain directories of nationally recognized and specialized accrediting agencies.

One well known accrediting agency is the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC). The DETC often accredits institutions offering correspondence or other independent study programs. However, programs accredited by the DETC are not as generally accepted by regionally accredited schools.

The U.S. Secretary of Education maintains a database for you to check institution accreditation and lists approximately 6,900 postsecondary educational institutions and programs, each of which is accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The database can be quickly searched.

How Can I Find Out if a School Won’t be Accepted by Employers or is a Diploma Mill?
According to the Better Business Bureau, many fraudulent schools (better known as diploma mills) are profiting on the popularity of distance learning and are attracting students into their “degree programs”, often with the promises of a quick diploma. These types of institutions have been around for a long time, and use aggressive recruiting techniques (through telemarketing and direct mail), following-up on consumer queries through e-mail or their Web site. These schools heavily promote in print and on the Internet, and often have sophisticated looking Web sites. Marketing representatives take advantage of students lack of knowledge about college accreditation, and use the terms“fully accredited” , “nationally accredited”, or “accredited worldwide” to assure the student of the program’s legitimacy. The school’s “accreditation” is usually by unrecognized or bogus agencies.

The Better Business Bureau offers several signs to look for to recognize a diploma mill:

  • The school advertises degrees that can be earned in less time than at a traditional college. There are legitimate ways to earn college credit through prior learning and collegiate level testing, but the credit offered through these schools does not meet recognized standards set by the American Council on Education and National PONSI, (the National Program on Noncollegiate Sponsored Instruction) the two major college credit recommendation bodies accepted by major colleges and universities. Generally, fully accredited schools will award up to 32 credits through examination and prior learning towards an undergraduate degree, but no reputable schools will award graduate degrees earned mainly through career portfolios.
  • The school states that it is accredited, but lists organizations that (although impressive sounding) are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or attempt to show official status by alleging state licensure or registration.
  • You earn your “diploma” by tuition paid on a per-degree basis. Traditional colleges charge tuition by credit hours, or by course or semester. The school may offer admission only by securing your credit information, and does not require documentation of academic records.
  • The school provides little or no communication with faculty, or the school’s Web site does not provide information on faculty or names faculty who have graduated from unaccredited schools.
  • The college’s name is similar to a well known university.
  • The school provides addresses that are only post office box numbers or suites.

Your college education is one of the most important investments you’ll ever make. If unsure of a school’s status, check the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general’s office to ensure the college is legitimate and if there have been any complaints.

bluearrow-1189932For further information, see Online Education Gets Accolades and Should You Get Your Degree Through Distance Learning?