Written By - Derick de Souza

Edited By Darryl S.

Review & Contribution By Dr. Carol Galanis

There are two main types of accreditations in the United States: regional and national. Both types are essential, but they do have some key differences. This article is a comprehensive guide on the similarities and differences between regional and national accreditation that students should read before pursuing a college degree. We also recommend that students read our in-depth Accreditation Guide, which provides deeper insights into accreditation and its importance.

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What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a lengthy procedure that requires a school to meet stringent criteria set by outside organizations. It is a title given to institutions that voluntarily participate in an evaluation process to demonstrate that they meet predetermined quality requirements, assuring that the program or institution provides students with a practical, high-quality education.

Understanding Accreditation

What exactly does accreditation mean? Accreditation is a method of monitoring and maintaining the quality of an organization, product, or service. It is defined as “the act of awarding credit or recognition.” It indicates that the institution maintains appropriate and expected quality and delivery standards. The term ‘accreditation’ is most used in the educational environment. Accreditation is particularly significant 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 receive credit for courses taken at specific schools that may be readily transferred to another university or program. Employers also prefer to recruit applicants who have graduated from a school appropriately recognized and accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is usually awarded to schools focusing on career or religious education. Most nationally accredited institutions are for-profit and provide vocational, career, or technical education.

National accrediting agencies play a variety of roles. As the name suggests, a national accrediting organization accredits universities across the United States. For-profit vocational, technical, and career schools are frequently accredited by them. While some organizations specialize in institutional accreditation, such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), others, such as the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE), offer institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Although, in most instances, regionally accredited schools and universities rarely take credits from nationally accredited colleges, nationally accredited schools and universities usually accept credits from nationally accredited schools and regionally accredited schools. Colleges typically accept transfer credits from schools with the same or similar accreditation because it shows that their curriculums and standards are comparable.

National Accrediting Agencies in the United States include:

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is a voluntary process through which schools and universities demonstrate that their programs and degrees have reached and will continue to satisfy established requirements. Regional accreditation authorities cover various locations in the United States. While the majority of them serve specific regions within the country, several also serve international locations. Regional accrediting agencies accredit schools at all levels, including elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. Each of these bodies focuses on certifying academically oriented, non-profit universities rather than technical or career-related schools. Six regional accrediting bodies accredit around 85% of all universities in the United States:

Regional vs. National Accreditation

What is the difference between regional and national accreditation? Fundamentally, regional and national accreditations are not the same. The main difference is that credits earned at regionally accredited universities are more widely recognized and thus easier to transfer. In college, credits are acquired in the same manner as points are in a game. In a game, students who get enough points progress to the next level. In the context of education, earning different degrees is one method to advance in the college credit game. While points do not normally transfer from one game to another, credits transfer to other institutions. Students who attend online colleges should understand how accreditation affects their academic careers. Although national accreditation may appear more authoritative, regional accreditation is older, more popular, and more widespread than national accreditation, save in a few cases. This is evident with most non-profit universities being regionally accredited.

The following are some key distinctions between regional and national accreditation:

Regional AccreditationNational Accreditation
Evaluation by a regional agencyEvaluation by a national agency
Each agency covers a specific regionNot based on region; serves the whole country
Applies to regular schools, colleges, and universities in generalApplies to for-profit schools that offer vocational, career, or technical programs in general
Compares to predetermined standardsCompares to similar schools
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE)
Mostly does not accept credits from nationally accredited institutionsMostly accepts credits from nationally and regionally accredited institutions

Regional vs. National Accreditation – Key Similarities

I. Both regional and national accreditation are voluntary, meaning that schools choose whether or not to seek them out. Schools cannot be forced to seek either type of accreditation.

II. Both regional and national accreditations are essential for transferring credits. Most schools will only accept credits from accredited institutions, so it is vital to ensure that the school the student is enrolled in has the correct type of accreditation.

III. Both regional and national accreditation can be beneficial for financial aid. Many schools will only give financial assistance to students attending an accredited institution. Read the Best Guide to Financial Aid for detailed information on funding college.

Regional vs. National Accreditation – Key Differences

I. The main difference between regional and national accreditation is their scope. Regional accreditation is usually reserved for schools in a specific geographic region, while national accreditation is for schools that operate nationwide.

II. Another difference is that regional accreditation is usually seen as more prestigious than national accreditation. This is because regional accreditation is more challenging to obtain, and it is reserved for schools that meet a higher standard.

III. Finally, regional accreditation is often required for schools that want to offer specific programs, such as teacher certification. National accreditation is not usually required for these programs.

How to Find if a College is Accredited?

The first and most crucial step in enrolling in a program is to determine whether or not the institution or program is accredited. The procedure is relatively straightforward. Students can check the accreditation status of a school or program using a variety of resources:

Website of the College

The accreditation status of most recognized educational institutions will be prominently displayed on the home page or other internal pages of the college’s website. If prospective students are looking for information on programmatic accreditation, they will most likely find it on the program’s web page.

Website of the Accreditation Agency

A dubious institution could lie about its accreditation status and put whatever it wants on its website, claiming it is accredited. As a result, students should check the accrediting organization’s website that granted the institution’s accreditation to ensure its current accreditation status.

  1. Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) The Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a non-profit organization that recognizes institutional and programming accrediting institutions in the United States. CHEA is the only national agency dedicated entirely to accreditation and quality assurance in higher education. It is widely regarded as the “gold standard” for determining whether an institution or program fulfills national criteria. The council provides a list of accredited schools on its website.
  2. U.S. Department of Education (USDE) The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) keeps track of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs reported directly by accrediting agencies and state-approval agencies. It is important to note, however, that the content on this site has not been audited and, therefore, cannot be guaranteed to be accurate, current, or complete. Contacting the appropriate accrediting agency for the most up-to-date and correct information is always good.

Note: Not all accrediting agencies must be accredited by the CHEA and the US Department of Education. The Secretary of Education in each state recognizes accrediting agencies.

FAQs about Regional vs National Accreditation

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is programmatic accreditation?

Individual programs within the institute may also be accredited independently, in addition to the institute as a whole. Depending on the career field one wishes to enter, programmatic accreditation may be more important than institutional accreditation. Psychology, education, medical specialties, engineering, and social work are just a few fields where a student’s degree must be accredited outside the university. Programmatic accreditation guarantees that the course of study meets the field’s educational and experience requirements, ensuring the student has the essential background to succeed in their chosen career.

Q. Why is accreditation important?

Q. Do online degree programs need to be accredited?

Q. Can I transfer from one accredited college to another?

Q. Is accreditation required for financial aid?

Q. Regional or national accreditation – which is better?

Additional Resources for Regional vs National Accreditation

Students looking for more information on accreditation and various other aspects of college education need to look no further. Online Masters Colleges (OMC) has a fantastic collection of resources that provide in-depth information on a variety of topics, including:

  1. Accreditation Guide
  2. Best Guide to Financial Aid
  3. FAFSA for Graduate School
  4. Transferring Colleges
  5. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

Also, do not forget to read what our experts say on How to Succeed in College as a Part-Time Student, 5 Career Tips For Graduating Students During The Pandemic, Students and Stimulus Packages, STEM Education, and more.

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