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    Regional vs National Accreditation

    September 22, 2021 | Staff Writers

    Regional Vs National Accreditation
    Degree Finder
    BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    Although it would be easy to assume that every post-secondary institution and its programs meet high standards of education (why else would they be considered a college or university?), it’s not always the case. Even higher ed has checks and balances to ensure they meet quality standards. But that system of evaluation (known as accreditation) is voluntary, so not every institution makes the grade — which could mean a big F for students.

    What It Means to Be Accredited

    If a university, college, or program is accredited, that means it has been evaluated by one of the higher ed agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and met their long list of objectives. Why does that matter?

    • Financial aid is ONLY offered to students attending institutions with college accreditation. Although some non-accredited schools may offer lower tuition, students aren’t eligible for any federal assistance. So that lower rate comes at a cost — more out-of-pocket expenses. Without a regional accreditation or national accreditation, schools aren’t recognized as a Title IV institution (the financial aid section in the Higher Education Act). So, no accreditation, no money.
    • Transferring credits is easier. If a student is attending an institution that isn’t accredited and wants to transfer to one that is, good luck. Most institutions won’t accept credits (or at least not all) from non-accredited ones — almost 75% lose almost 13 credit hours when they transfer. No accreditation, more money — and time.
    • Getting a job after graduating may be easier. Checking social media accounts, criminal status, and educational credentials are part of the interviewing process for over 50% of employers. Some may consider a degree or certificate from a non-accredited institution as not “legit,” suggesting the prospective candidate might not have as strong of skills or knowledge and toss their resume in the circular file. No accreditation could mean less money.
    • Some professional licenses require a degree from an accredited college and/or program in order to qualify. Nurses, dietitians, lawyers, dentists, occupational therapists, and a slew of other professions require a license to practice (each state may have different requirements). Search the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database to find 44,000+ programs across the country and the schools that offer them… because no accreditation, no license.

    The College Accreditation Process

    Independent agencies have rigorous guidelines to determine if an institution passes their test. Schools or programs that are eligible include: public, private, non profit, for profit, faith-based, and distance learning universities; private career training and single-purpose institutions; law and medical schools; nursing, engineering, and a variety of other specialized programs.

    Some of the factors they evaluate can be as (seemingly) simple as the college’s mission statement (Is it clear? Does it demonstrate a commitment to sustainability? Does it express diversity?) to how effective the administrative structures and leaders are (what are the policies for faculty and staff credentials, fundraising efforts, enrollment management plans, and key performance indicators?).

    Typically, an institution seeking college and/or program accreditation applies to one of the accreditation agencies, filling out forms, and providing an exhaustive list of “evidence” — anything from course catalogs and faculty handbooks to alumni surveys, meeting notes of governing boards, and student success reports. Once the application has been reviewed and evaluated, members of the agency (usually representatives from already-accredited institutions) begin an interviewing process, making on-site appearances to meet with a facility-selected committee. Then the agency compiles all the information gathered and starts their assessment — which can sometimes take up to two years — to determine if the institute has met their standards. Occasionally, they’ll request more documents or want to make another on-site visit to speak to students, faculty, or other staff.

    Once an institution or program has been recognized by the accreditation agency, their work isn’t done. By accepting accreditation status, an institution must continually uphold the agency’s standards, renew their application (depending on the program or institution, it could be every year or 4+ years), pay maintenance fees, and agree to periodic (or continual) monitoring. If a program or postsecondary institution is denied accreditation, they can make the necessary adjustments provided by the agency and re-apply.

    Accreditation Agencies

    Much like the process they subject institutions and programs to, accreditation agencies must also go through a highly scrutinized series of steps to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. An initial application with documentation, on-site visits from the DOE to institutions the agency has deemed accredited, and applying for continued recognition every five years are some of the similarities. But agency review also includes public weigh-in, an opportunity for a rebuttal to the DOE’s analysis, a review by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity in a public meeting, and a final decision by a senior department official.

    There are currently 62 agencies that have passed the DOE’s test and made the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs list. These academic committees fall into three categories: program accreditors (evaluators of individual units, programs, or disciplines, like schools of business), national accreditors (typically, inspectors of for-profit institutions, like technical or vocational schools, or other single-purpose institutions), and regional accreditors (appraisers of non-profit higher ed). Schools can have program accreditation and regional accreditation simultaneously (in fact, most program accreditation programs are part of an accredited college), and regional plus national accreditation (although, it’s rare).

    • Program Accreditors include Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, and Commission on the Association of Theological Schools.
    • National Accreditors include Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies, Council on Occupational Education, and Higher Learning Commission.
    • Regional Accreditors are:
      • Middle States Commission on Higher Education, serving Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
      • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, representing Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
      • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that evaluates Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
      • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, provide analysis for schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
      • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are responsible for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
      • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, accrediting schools in California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.

    Regional vs National Accreditation

    We’ve shown the importance of accreditation and the steps on how institutions get there. Now, it’s time to narrow it down even further and answer the question: what’s better — regional accreditation or national accreditation?

    • Regional Accreditation. Although national recognition seems more prestigious, in this case, having regional accreditation outweighs national accreditation. In fact, 85% of accredited colleges have regional status. What does that mean for the student? A lot it seems. Although the institutions may have stricter admission standards, mostly non profits make the list — which may mean lower tuition. Plus, students who attend higher ed with a regional star can transfer credits to other regionally-accredited or nationally-accredited schools, and are eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans.
    • National Accreditation. A school that meets national accreditation status is typically a for-profit or religious-based institution that’s primary focus is vocational, technical, or career-based curriculum. Although institutions marked with a national stamp may have rigorous degrees and certificates, and more relaxed admission standards, their credits don’t transfer to a school with regional accreditation and tuition may be higher since their stability depends on keeping shareholders happy.

    Not All Accreditations Are Created the Same

    If a college claims it’s accredited, don’t stop there. Having credentials and being regionally or nationally recognized are two different things. See if your college of interest is on the DOE’s list. If not, consider walking away. If you’re fully vested in one that’s not on the college accreditation list, start investigating. Does the institution have other ways of measuring effectiveness or quality? Can (and how many) credits transfer? Do they have a solid reputation in the professional world or at least high job placement possibilities? Is it too late to transfer? Do you have the mental and financial drive to start over? Unfortunately, a school with no college accreditation leaves you with very few options.

    Why Wouldn’t a School Want to Go Through the College Accreditation Process?

    Cost is typically the determining factor why some higher ed institutions pass on becoming accredited. Some agencies require a workshop (excluding travel and hotel expenses), application fee, mandatory orientation and on-site evaluations, and ongoing fees to stay accredited — all of which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention, the cost of time — for collecting all the necessary documents, meetings, and departmental initiatives.

    But other reasons might include (but aren’t limited to) they’d like to keep costs lower for their enrollees, the overall process is too rigorous and they don’t have the manpower, they’ve lost accreditation because of financial difficulties, they haven’t met the minimum requirements yet, or feel the process infringes on their religious, academic, or political freedom.

    Have Problems With the Information?

    If you’re employed by an accreditation agency or postsecondary institution and disagree with the information we’ve provided, please feel free to contact us and we’ll make the correction.

    Although it would be easy to assume that every postsecondary institution and its programs meet high standards of education (why else would they be considered a college or university?), it’s not always the case. Even higher ed has checks and balances to ensure they meet quality standards. But that system of evaluation (known as accreditation) is voluntary, so not every institution makes the grade — which could mean a big F for students.

    What It Means to Be Accredited

    If a university, college, or program is accredited, that means it has been evaluated by one of the higher ed agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and met their long list of objectives. Why does that matter?

    • Financial aid is ONLY offered to students attending institutions with college accreditation. Although some non-accredited schools may offer lower tuition, students aren’t eligible for any federal assistance. So that lower rate comes at a cost — more out-of-pocket expenses. Without a regional accreditation or national accreditation, schools aren’t recognized as a Title IV institution (the financial aid section in the Higher Education Act). So, no accreditation, no money.
    • Transferring credits is easier. If a student is attending an institution that isn’t accredited and wants to transfer to one that is, good luck. Most institutions won’t accept credits (or at least not all) from non-accredited ones — almost 75% lose almost 13 credit hours when they transfer. No accreditation, more money — and time.
    • Getting a job after graduating may be easier. Checking social media accounts, criminal status, and educational credentials are part of the interviewing process for over 50% of employers. Some may consider a degree or certificate from a non-accredited institution as not “legit,” suggesting the prospective candidate might not have as strong of skills or knowledge and toss their resume in the circular file. No accreditation could mean less money.
    • Some professional licenses require a degree from an accredited college and/or program in order to qualify. Nurses, dietitians, lawyers, dentists, occupational therapists, and a slew of other professions require a license to practice (each state may have different requirements). Search the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database to find 44,000+ programs across the country and the schools that offer them… because no accreditation, no license.

    The College Accreditation Process

    Independent agencies have rigorous guidelines to determine if an institution passes their test. Schools or programs that are eligible include: public, private, non profit, for profit, faith-based, and distance learning universities; private career training and single-purpose institutions; law and medical schools; nursing, engineering, and a variety of other specialized programs.

    Some of the factors they evaluate can be as (seemingly) simple as the college’s mission statement (Is it clear? Does it demonstrate a commitment to sustainability? Does it express diversity?) to how effective the administrative structures and leaders are (what are the policies for faculty and staff credentials, fundraising efforts, enrollment management plans, and key performance indicators?).

    Typically, an institution seeking college and/or program accreditation applies to one of the accreditation agencies, filling out forms, and providing an exhaustive list of “evidence” — anything from course catalogs and faculty handbooks to alumni surveys, meeting notes of governing boards, and student success reports. Once the application has been reviewed and evaluated, members of the agency (usually representatives from already-accredited institutions) begin an interviewing process, making on-site appearances to meet with a facility-selected committee. Then the agency compiles all the information gathered and starts their assessment — which can sometimes take up to two years — to determine if the institute has met their standards. Occasionally, they’ll request more documents or want to make another on-site visit to speak to students, faculty, or other staff.

    Once an institution or program has been recognized by the accreditation agency, their work isn’t done. By accepting accreditation status, an institution must continually uphold the agency’s standards, renew their application (depending on the program or institution, it could be every year or 4+ years), pay maintenance fees, and agree to periodic (or continual) monitoring. If a program or postsecondary institution is denied accreditation, they can make the necessary adjustments provided by the agency and re-apply.

    Accreditation Agencies

    Much like the process they subject institutions and programs to, accreditation agencies must also go through a highly scrutinized series of steps to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. An initial application with documentation, on-site visits from the DOE to institutions the agency has deemed accredited, and applying for continued recognition every five years are some of the similarities. But agency review also includes public weigh-in, an opportunity for a rebuttal to the DOE’s analysis, a review by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity in a public meeting, and a final decision by a senior department official.

    There are currently 62 agencies that have passed the DOE’s test and made the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs list. These academic committees fall into three categories: program accreditors (evaluators of individual units, programs, or disciplines, like schools of business), national accreditors (typically, inspectors of for-profit institutions, like technical or vocational schools, or other single-purpose institutions), and regional accreditors (appraisers of non-profit higher ed). Schools can have program accreditation and regional accreditation simultaneously (in fact, most program accreditation programs are part of an accredited college), and regional plus national accreditation (although, it’s rare).

    • Program Accreditors include Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, and Commission on the Association of Theological Schools.
    • National Accreditors include Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies, Council on Occupational Education, and Higher Learning Commission.
    • Regional Accreditors are:
      • Middle States Commission on Higher Education, serving Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
      • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, representing Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
      • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that evaluates Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
      • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, provide analysis for schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
      • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are responsible for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
      • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, accrediting schools in California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.

    Regional vs National Accreditation

    We’ve shown the importance of accreditation and the steps on how institutions get there. Now, it’s time to narrow it down even further and answer the question: what’s better — regional accreditation or national accreditation?

    • Regional Accreditation. Although national recognition seems more prestigious, in this case, having regional accreditation outweighs national accreditation. In fact, 85% of accredited colleges have regional status. What does that mean for the student? A lot it seems. Although the institutions may have stricter admission standards, mostly non profits make the list — which may mean lower tuition. Plus, students who attend higher ed with a regional star can transfer credits to other regionally-accredited or nationally-accredited schools, and are eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans.
    • National Accreditation. A school that meets national accreditation status is typically a for-profit or religious-based institution that’s primary focus is vocational, technical, or career-based curriculum. Although institutions marked with a national stamp may have rigorous degrees and certificates, and more relaxed admission standards, their credits don’t transfer to a school with regional accreditation and tuition may be higher since their stability depends on keeping shareholders happy.

    Not All Accreditations Are Created the Same

    If a college claims it’s accredited, don’t stop there. Having credentials and being regionally or nationally recognized are two different things. See if your college of interest is on the DOE’s list. If not, consider walking away. If you’re fully vested in one that’s not on the college accreditation list, start investigating. Does the institution have other ways of measuring effectiveness or quality? Can (and how many) credits transfer? Do they have a solid reputation in the professional world or at least high job placement possibilities? Is it too late to transfer? Do you have the mental and financial drive to start over? Unfortunately, a school with no college accreditation leaves you with very few options.

    Why Wouldn’t a School Want to Go Through the College Accreditation Process?

    Cost is typically the determining factor why some higher ed institutions pass on becoming accredited. Some agencies require a workshop (excluding travel and hotel expenses), application fee, mandatory orientation and on-site evaluations, and ongoing fees to stay accredited — all of which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention, the cost of time — for collecting all the necessary documents, meetings, and departmental initiatives.

    But other reasons might include (but aren’t limited to) they’d like to keep costs lower for their enrollees, the overall process is too rigorous and they don’t have the manpower, they’ve lost accreditation because of financial difficulties, they haven’t met the minimum requirements yet, or feel the process infringes on their religious, academic, or political freedom.

    Have Problems With the Information?

    If you’re employed by an accreditation agency or postsecondary institution and disagree with the information we’ve provided, please feel free to contact us and we’ll make the correction.

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    BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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