Accreditation assures students, parents and the public that a school adheres to high quality standards based on the latest research and professional practice. A school with distance education accreditation must continue to demonstrate during regular review cycles that it is developing and growing, not just maintaining existing standards.
Qualify for Financial Aid
Distance education accreditation also creates a gateway for students to participate in federally funded and state financial aid programs. In order to receive federal funds, a school must be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by The U.S. Department of Education (DOE).
Qualify for Graduate School
Schools will often only recognize credits earned at institutions holding the same level of accreditation. Graduates from programs at accredited institutions qualify to attend other accredited schools to pursue advanced studies, including master's and doctoral programs.
Earn a More Marketable Degree
Attending an accredited school can also make you more competitive in the job market; some employers will only accept degrees from accredited institutions when considering promotions or salary.
Types of Accreditation
There are two basic types of accreditation: institutional accreditation and specialized accreditation. Institutional accreditation is awarded to an institution by one of six regional accrediting agencies and many national accrediting agencies, such as the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). Specialized accreditation usually applies to a single department, program, or school that is part of a larger institution of higher education.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the following six regional accrediting agencies:
Online Education Accreditation
The Distance Education and Training Council accredits online or distance learning programs that have been in existence for at least two years. Other online education accreditation bodies are the regional agencies who currently evaluate online education programs using the same criteria as on-campus programs. The six regional accrediting agencies have proposed new criteria for evaluating online education, which address issues of faculty control of course content, technical and program support for both faculty members and students, and evaluation and assessment methods for measuring student learning. However, the new guidelines have not been accepted yet.
Levels of Accreditation
Most accreditation organizations use the same standards and criteria to accredit each program type; however, accreditation is granted for specific periods of time that differ between individual schools and programs. Check with the school or the accrediting body to determine the length of time for which the school is accredited.
Education is a serious investment of time and can be a serious investment of money as well. You should exercise caution in regards to attending any school which is not accredited by a DOE-recognized accrediting body. Some diploma mills have been known to create their own accrediting agency and then proclaim themselves "accredited." To find out if an accrediting agency is legitimate and nationally recognized, you can consult the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a private agency that accredits the accreditors. As noted above, you may find that the lack of accreditation means the degree you earn does not allow you to achieve the goals you set. Attending a non-accredited institution also means that you will not be qualified for financial aid.