Derick de Souza
Written By - Derick de Souza

Check MarkEdited By Gabriel D.

Check MarkReview & Contribution By Dr. Edmund Moyer

Accreditation is an extensive process requiring a school to achieve stringent standards set by independent organizations. It is a distinction gained by schools that participate voluntarily in an evaluation process to verify that they meet set quality requirements, assuring that the program or institution provides students with a practical, high-quality education. This is a comprehensive guide to college accreditation that students must read before pursuing any college degree.

Types of Accreditation

Table Of Contents

What Does Accredited Mean?

What exactly does “accredited” mean? Accreditation, which means ‘the act of granting credit or recognition,’ is a method of monitoring and maintaining the quality of an organization, product, or service. It simply means that the institution in question maintains appropriate and expected quality and delivery standards. Accreditation is critical in education because it determines whether or not a student can continue their studies at the next level. It is a status or approval that enables students to earn credit for courses taken at specific institutions, which can then be easily transferred to another institution or program. Furthermore, employers always prefer to hire graduates from schools that have been appropriately recognized and accredited by an authorized accrediting agency.

Accreditation agencies do not have administrative duties but rather serve as advisors. They accomplish this by holding institutions accountable for upholding the agency’s accreditation standards, which are frequently designed to achieve some or all of the following goals:

  1. Making sure that all schools provide good education;
  2. Encouraging and supporting suitable teaching methods;
  3. Giving people confidence in the honesty of the education offered by schools; and
  4. Giving students more job and mobility opportunities.
  5. A school is only accredited if a recognized agency has checked its academic quality.

Why is Accreditation Important?

Accreditation is vital for various reasons, not the least of which is that it determines whether or not a student will be able to continue their studies at the next level. Students who graduate from unaccredited institutions are ineligible for state financial aid programs in many states and cannot transfer their credits to other institutions. This can significantly impede educational advancement and severely restrict employment opportunities.

Accreditation also assists students in selecting the right school by ensuring that the institution is qualified and offers the required classes and programs of study. More importantly, in many places, this is the only way to ensure that other institutions will accept an institution’s credits. Without accreditation, students may struggle to complete a degree program or obtain certification in a specific field.

For students, this means that credits earned at accredited schools transfer more easily than credits earned at unaccredited institutions. This is particularly important when applying for federal student aid. To apply for federal student aid, one must first determine whether or not the school is regionally accredited. If the school one intends to attend or is currently attending does not have regional accreditation, one’s eligibility for federal student aid will be limited.

Graduate students who have received college accreditation may be eligible for Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. It is also worth noting that graduate degrees cannot be obtained from non-accredited institutions. Students who intend to continue their education after completing their undergraduate studies should only enroll in programs at regionally accredited institutions. This is true whether they pursue a master’s, clinical doctorate, or Ph.D.

To sum up how important accreditation is:

  • A school’s accreditation can affect how credits are transferred from one school to another. Colleges and universities in different states will accept credits or degrees from one school.
  • Enrolling in an accredited school is one requirement for students to be eligible for federal financial aid.
  • Employers usually only look at educational credentials from schools that the government recognizes.
  • A school’s accreditation shows that it meets specific academic and quality standards, so students and employers can be sure the school is good.

Types of Accreditation

Institutional and programmatic accreditation, also called specialized accreditation, are the two main types of accreditation.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional Accreditation is a type of accreditation that local governments give. It acknowledges that the different parts of an institution work together to complete a single goal. A college or other institution chooses to do this kind of accreditation on its own. The university asks an accreditation agency to look at its programs, faculty, and student success to see if they meet the standards for higher education. If the requirements are met, the institution is given accreditation and checked regularly to ensure it stays in line with the rules. There are two types of Institutional Accreditation: National and Regional.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is usually given to schools focusing on religious or career education. Most nationally recognized colleges are for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs.

National accrediting agencies play a few different roles; they approve colleges throughout the United States. Most of the time, they accredit vocational, technical, or career schools that make money. Some only do institutional accreditation, like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and groups that do institutional and programmatic accreditation, like the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE).

Regional and national accrediting agencies have a hard time transferring credits earned. Most of the time, nationally accredited schools will accept credits from other nationally accredited schools and colleges. Usually, colleges and universities that are only accredited in one region won’t accept credits from colleges and universities that are only accredited across the country, and the other way around. Instead, schools usually let students transfer credits from schools with the same or similar accreditation. This shows that their standards and curricula are the same.

Some examples of National Accrediting agencies in the U.S. are:

Regional Accreditation

Regional Accreditation is a process that colleges and universities can opt for to show that their degrees and programs meet certain standards and will continue to do so. Regional accrediting agencies work in different parts of the United States; most serve certain parts of the country, but some also go to places outside the country. They accredit schools from elementary to university levels, including colleges and universities. Each organization mainly certifies academically-focused, non-profit colleges, not schools that teach skills or lead to jobs. Six regional groups accredit about 85% of colleges in the U.S.:

Programmatic Accreditation

An institute may be accredited as a whole, or different programs within it may also be accredited independently. Depending on the field of work one wants to go into, this may be more important than institutional accreditation. In some fields, like psychology, education, medical specialty, engineering, and social work, a student’s degree must be recognized by a body other than the university. Professional groups in that field, like the American Psychological Association (APA) for psychology or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for business, do program-based accreditation. This certification ensures that the course meets the education and experience requirements for the field. This gives the student the background they need to be successful in their field.

Programmatic or Specialized Accreditation is also used for programs that serve specific groups, like the military or students with disabilities or certain learning disabilities. It’s common for certificate and license programs to get this kind of accreditation. An industry group, not a school, is more likely to give this kind of accreditation than an educational institution. For instance, in the field of cosmetology, certification is provided by a national organization. In many states, someone with this certificate can work as a beautician. The agency needs people to be trained and tested, but it doesn’t offer any courses or programs of study.

Some examples of accrediting bodies awarding programmatic accreditation are:

Besides these, there are many other types of accreditation, such as ABET accreditation, CARF accreditation, CCNE accreditation, NAEYC accreditation, WASC accreditation (for schools), CACREP accreditation, and more.

Regional Vs. National Accreditation

What is the argument about when it comes to Regional vs. National Accreditation? In a nutshell, regional accreditation is not the same as national accreditation. The main difference is that credits from universities approved by the region are more generally recognized and can be transferred more easily. In college, you get credits the same way you earn points in a game. When students get enough points in a game, they move on to the next level. One way to move up in this game of college credits is to get different degrees. Most of the time, points from one game don’t transfer to another, but college credits do. Students who go to online colleges should know how accreditation affects their academic careers. Sometimes, it may sound like national accreditation is more important than regional accreditation, but regional accreditation is older, more popular, and more common than national accreditation. Most universities that are not for profit are accredited at the regional level instead of the national level.

Here are some of the ways that Regional Accreditation and National Accreditation are different:

Regional AccreditationNational Accreditation
Is evaluated by a regional agencyIs evaluated by a national agency
Each of the six agencies covers a specific regionIs not based on a region; serves the whole country
Usually applies to regular schools, colleges, and universitiesUsually applies to for-profit schools that offer vocational, career, or technical programs
Compares to pre-defined standardsCompares to similar schools
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSE)
Generally does not accept credits from nationally accredited institutionsGenerally accepts credit from nationally and regionally accredited institutions

What Are the Advantages of Accreditation

Easier employment

Some employers, like the federal government, may require education from regionally or nationally accredited schools. Students who want to work in fields like psychology or education, where certification and licensure are needed, may also need a degree that the program has been accredited.

Access to Financial Aid

Students must be enrolled in a college or university that is regionally or nationally accredited to get federal financial aid. They must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for such aid. Because of this, some types of state and private financial aid need regional or national certification.

Earing & Transfer of Credits

Graduate schools that are known and respected in their region, for example, usually only accept applicants with degrees from programs that are also known and respected in their region. The same is true for students who want to transfer: only credits from other approved colleges can be accepted by regionally accredited schools. The difficulty of their courses may be proven by the fact that both schools have been evaluated by an accrediting body, which makes course credit transfer easy.

Who Accredits Colleges and Universities?

There are national and regional accrediting agencies and specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies in the U.S. These organizations, usually non-profit, accredited universities, colleges, schools, and programs based on a number of factors. Each agency has different rules and requirements to recognize and assess a parameter, but they all use the same set of standards to judge academic programs. Accreditation is overseen by groups that want to keep the quality of education high across all institutions. For students, this means that credits from schools that are accredited are easier to transfer to other schools and universities than credits from schools that are not accredited. There are two types of school accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation can take up to seven years, while national accreditation can take up to two years.

The boards of accrediting agencies are mostly or entirely made up of college and university presidents who look out for the interests of all the schools on the board. Board members are chosen by secret ballot, and their three-year terms overlap. The only people who work for free are peer reviewers who do technical reviews of schools and make accreditation decisions.It is not the job of the U.S. Department of Education to accredit colleges. An independent review of an institution or program against national standards is done by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This creates a centralized process for accreditation that recognizes the quality of education.

Who Accredits Online Programs?

Most schools regionally accredited offer online and distance learning programs. It is now common for colleges to seek programmatic accreditation for their online offerings as well, even though the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) may not specifically address online programs. Most of the time, though, if an online college is accredited, you can be sure that its on-campus and online programs are also accredited. Still, some programs, like those in psychology, business, education, occupational therapy, and so on, will need to be approved by specific agencies, even if the school offering those programs is approved by regional or national bodies.

Students must check to see if the school they want to attend is regionally accredited and, if necessary, if the program they wish to enroll in is programmatically accredited. This is especially important for schools that offer online programs, often called distance learning programs.

How To Find Out If a School is Accredited?

For those who want to know how to find out if a school is accredited, here are some simple ways to do so:

The College Website

Most accredited schools proudly and prominently show that they are accredited on their home or other website pages. Those who want to enroll in a program will most likely be able to find information about accreditation on the college’s or program’s website.

The Accreditation Agency Website

A shady school could lie about its accreditation and put anything it wants on its website, simply saying it is accredited. Because of this, students should also check the accrediting agency’s website that gave the school its accreditation to ensure it is still accredited.

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

Colleges and universities in the U.S. that give degrees are part of the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes institutional and programmatic accrediting agencies. CHEA is the only national agency whose sole job is to accredit and ensure the quality of higher education. It is also the “gold standard” for determining if a school or program meets the required standards. CHEA has a list of accredited schools on its website.

U.S Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) keeps a list of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs reported directly by state approval agencies and recognized accrediting agencies. It is important to note that the information on this site has not been checked, so it is not guaranteed to be correct, up-to-date, or complete. Getting the most accurate and up-to-date information is always best by calling the right accrediting agency.

Important: Remember that not all accrediting agencies need to be approved by the CHEA and the USDE. In every state, the Secretary of Education recognizes accrediting agencies.

FAQs about College Accreditation

Q: What is accreditation?

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that higher education institutions and/or programs provide quality education. Accrediting agencies, which are regional or national private educational organizations, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer reviews to determine whether those requirements are met. Institutions and/or programs that request and meet the review requirements of an agency are then “accredited” by that agency.

Q: Why does accreditation matter?

Q: What role does accreditation play in a distance learning context?

Q: Does the U.S. Department of Education specifically recognize or accredit online colleges and universities?

Q: Can I check for accreditation with the U.S. Department of Education?

Q. Can I access financial aid and transfer credits if I attend an accredited college?

Q. Can I transfer credits from one college to another if they have different accreditations?

Additional Resources: Accredited Colleges and Universities

While the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is one of the best resources for more information on college accreditation, students can make informed decisions when selecting a college or program by contacting or browsing the websites of accreditation agencies.”The following accrediting agencies are recognized by the Secretary as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit.” – U.S. Department of Education.

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSE)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation of private, postsecondary, non-degree-granting institutions and degree-granting institutions in the United States, including those granting associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degrees, that are predominantly organized to educate students for occupational, trade, and technical careers, and including institutions that offer programs via distance education.

Michael McComis, Executive Director

2101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 302

Arlington, Virginia 22201

Tel. (703) 247-4212, Fax (703) 247-4533

E-mail address:

Web address:

Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation of private postsecondary institutions offering certificates or diplomas and postsecondary institutions offering associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers, including those that offer those programs via distance education.

Michelle Edwards, President

1350 Eye Street, NW, Suite 560

Washington, DC 20005

Tel. (202) 336-6780, Fax (202) 842-2593

E-mail address:

Web address:

Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation of postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer degree and/or non-degree programs primarily by the distance or correspondence education method up to and including the professional doctoral degree, including those institutions certified explicitly by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes.

Title IV Note: Only accredited institutions that are certified by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes may use accreditation by this agency to establish eligibility of its degree and/or non-degree programs to participate in Title IV programs.

Leah K. Matthews, Executive Director

1101 17th Street NW, Suite 808 

Washington, DC 20036 

Tel. (202) 234-5100, Fax (202) 332-1386

E-mail address:

Web address:

Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of degree-granting institutions of higher education in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, including the tribal institutions and the accreditation of programs offered via distance education and correspondence education within these institutions. This recognition extends to the Institutional Actions Council jointly with the Board of Trustees of the Commission for decisions on cases for continued accreditation or reaffirmation and continued candidacy and to the Appeals Body jointly with the Board of Trustees of the Commission for decisions related to initial candidacy or accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.

Barbara Gellman-Danley, President

230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500

Chicago, Illinois 60604-1413

Tel. (312) 263-0456, (800) 621-7440, Fax (312) 263-7462

E-mail address: 

Web address:

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidacy status”) of postsecondary degree-granting educational institutions in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, and the accreditation of programs offered via distance education within these institutions.

Sonny Ramaswamy, President

8060 165th Avenue, NE, Suite 100

Redmond, Washington 98052

Tel. (425) 425-376-0596, Fax (425) 376-0596

E-mail address:

Web address:

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidacy status”) of institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and any other geographic areas in which the Commission elects to conduct accrediting activities within the United States including distance and correspondence education programs offered at those institutions.

Heather Perfetti, President

3624 Market Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

Tel. (267) 284-5000, Fax (215) 662-5950

E-mail address:

Web address:

WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of senior colleges and universities in California, Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, including distance education programs offered at those institutions.

Jamienne S. Studley, President 

985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100

Alameda, California 94501

Tel. (510) 748-9001, Fax (510) 748-9797

E-mail address:

Web address:

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidate for Accreditation”) of degree-granting institutions of higher education in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, including the accreditation of programs offered via distance and correspondence education within these institutions. The accreditation status and recognition extend to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees and the Appeals Committee of the College Delegate Assembly on cases of initial candidacy or initial accreditation and for continued accreditation or candidacy.

Belle Wheelan, President

1866 Southern Lane

Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097

Tel. (404) 679-4512, Fax (404) 994-6592

E-mail address:

Web address:

New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)

Scope of recognition: the accreditation and pre-accreditation (“Candidacy status”) of institutions of higher education in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont that award bachelor’s, master’s, and/or doctoral degrees and associate degree-granting institutions in those states that include degrees in liberal arts or general studies among their offerings, including the accreditation of programs offered via distance education within these institutions.

Lawrence Schall, President

3 Burlington Woods Drive, Suite 100

Burlington, Massachusetts 01803-4514

Tel. (781) 425-7700, Fax (781) 425-1001

E-mail address:

Web address: