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What is accreditation? What should I look for when selecting an educational institution?
Accreditation is a stamp of approval that ensures prospective students that the institution has in place standards to assess educational product and guarantee that its students will receive a quality education. As a consumer you need to be very careful to ask about accreditation before you start at a college or university.
There are two basic types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic. Understanding the differences will make it much easier for you to judge the status of an institution. Many schools call themselves “accredited” so it is important that you understand the different types and their usefulness to judge an institution. There are a number of accreditation commissions, but you should look for those that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education.
Institutional accreditation means that a university meets the standards of their accrediting body. This is comprehensive accreditation which is given to the institution so you are assured of a quality program. When you are looking for the highest level of accreditation you should go to a school that is regionally accredited. There are seven regional commissions in the US: Middle States Commission, North Central Association, New England Association, Northwest, Southern Association, and Western Association. I know that it seems counter-intuitive, but regional accreditation is much more respected than national in the world of academics.
By attending a school that is regionally accredited you are virtually assured that if you want to transfer to another school or do an advanced degree that your credits will be recognized and accredited. Going to a non-regionally accredited school will mean that it is very difficult to accomplish transfer and in many cases get into an advanced degree program. Regional accreditation is that important!
Be a savvy consumer and look for an institution that is regionally accredited. In addition if you are interested in a program of study that has a professional accrediting body, look for that as well as it ensures that your program not only meets regional standards but also programmatic expectations in the discipline. As an example, Nursing and Business are two programs of student that have additional programmatic accreditation.
Article written by: Dr. Cyndi Wilson Porter, Vice President for Extended Academic Programs at the University of the Incarnate Word.
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