If you’re deciding on colleges the most important task is to see whether the institution is accredited or not. If not, keep looking. Accreditation tells you if the school is legitimate or not. The most recognized type of accreditation in the United States is regional accreditation; it is essentially the gold standard. Earning regional accreditation in the United States is a voluntary, self-regulating (non-governmental) process; however it is so common students should view unaccredited institutions with caution, as they could be covering up financial instability, unqualified faculty, or questionable business practices.
The qualifications sought to get the stamp of regional accreditation are set by a peer review board containing members of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Keep in mind, accreditation is done on a renewal basis; schools can lose their accreditation if their circumstances change for the worst, so it’s important to keep current with your school’s status.
Who does the accrediting?
Typically accreditation is done from one the following six regional agencies of accreditation, depending on where the college is located:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Colleges and Schools
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Colleges and Schools
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
What are they looking for?
Each college is typically assessed using a formula based on a set criteria. This is currently what the board is looking for in a school:
- objectives and goals of institution
- services available to students
- overall mission of the college or university
- quality of education
- reputation of faculty
Colleges and universities are responsible for providing documentation to prove they are meeting all of these goals, and the whole process is incredibly demanding; a department failing to provide evidence of their faculty’s credentials, for instance, or an unexplained change in curriculum, could be enough to get sanctioned. Agents of the accrediting bodies also perform campus visits and investigate significant complaints. Most institutions hire a team of staff members whose only job is making sure their school passes muster with the accrediting body.
Why does this matter?
One of the most important factors in acquiring a successful education and furthermore, a dependable career, is choosing a reputable college. When a college goes through a rigorous process like accreditation, it gives students more likelihood of success. Plus, employer recruiters will often not even consider visiting non-accredited college campuses when looking for future employees. Maybe you’re already employed and you want to take a few classes to bump up your pay scale. Well, if your current employer offers a tuition reimbursement program, you may only be eligible to use that resource at an accredited college.
Another factor comes up when students wish to transfer to other institutions and would like their previously-attained credit to come with them. This is also a concern for those with a bachelor’s degree-seeking to advance with a graduate degree. If the former bachelor’s degree was received from a college without proper accreditation, you may find acceptance into a graduate program very difficult if not impossible.