For many people these days, online college is an excellent option that allows them to take classes from their desired schools without having to leave home. Online schools also offer the amazing benefit of schedule flexibility, letting students work and care for their families while they are in school. For this reason, online college programs are gaining in popularity not only among students who have just completed high school but also among older students who are returning to college for second degrees and new career paths. A degree from an online school can offer students the most in-demand degree options, but there is always important fine print. Are Online Schools Accredited?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2015, there were nearly 6 million students enrolled at degree-granting online educational institutions. In addition, the Center reported that almost 30 percent of post-secondary students were taking at least one distance education or online course and that 14 percent of students were taking exclusively online courses.
What Is College Accreditation?
A major concern that arises in students’ minds as they contemplate beginning a distance education program instead of attending a traditional college or university is whether their degree will be recognized at other colleges and by their future employers upon graduation. One of the biggest indicators of an online school’s role, standards, and educational reliability is its accreditation status. In short, accreditation plays a huge role in the online school’s respectability. Determining whether an online school is accredited is often the first step in determining if it is the right option for any student.
Accreditation is an important indicator of whether an online school or any type of postsecondary education institution is maintaining its educational quality level. This indicator will affect the type and quality of education that a student receives. It can also be a helpful indicator of whether an individual will be able to land an important job in a major industry. In many countries around the globe, college accreditation is backed by the national government. However, in the United States, accreditation is typically maintained by regional or state-based agencies or occasionally by nationwide agencies and is only overseen by the federal government.
Why Is College Accreditation Important?
While accreditation usually adds legitimacy to any school’s background, a lack of accreditation could mean that the school is currently too new to have landed this important distinction. However, in the case of online colleges, students should beware of non-accredited institutions because there are many degree mills and poor-quality institutions that claim to give degrees but that are not backed with a stamp of approval from a governing agency.
According to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which is one of the many regional accrediting commissions recognized in the United States, the primary reason for college accreditation is to ensure the highest standards in postsecondary education and to improve educational quality in specific programs over time. In addition to this, there are many other benefits to accreditation for online colleges.
Typical Accrediting Criteria
- Students can prove that they have a competent educational background to future employers.
- Students can often have their college credits accepted at other accredited institutions.
- Accredited programs ensure curriculum relevance in a variety of professions.
- Employers can feel confident when hiring new employees who attended accredited institutions.
- Students can more easily land student loans and federal grants.
- Students are held to a higher level of excellence for admission and graduation.
Overall, accreditation for online postsecondary schools confirms an excellent educational experience with many benefits for one’s future vocation, and it ensures that a neutral party has reviewed the institution’s educational programs to certify that it is in compliance with national indicators.
What Are the Different Types of College Accreditation?
Students should look for accreditation from one of the following respected bodies in the United States. Regional accrediting bodies cover six different regions throughout the United States and do not usually accept credit transfers from nationally recognized accrediting bodies. Accreditation could come from one of the following associations.
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
In addition, there are a few nationally recognized accrediting bodies. The biggest benefit of accreditation with one of these bodies when taking online classes is that they usually accept credits from a majority of post-secondary educational institutions. However, students should keep in mind that degrees earned from institutions that are nationally accredited may not be recognized in particular states within certain professions, such as teaching or engineering.
Are All Online Schools Accredited?
Sadly, not all online schools are accredited today, and students must be on the lookout for unaccredited schools as well as those offering fake diplomas or degrees. It may surprise many to learn that there are actually more unaccredited online colleges than there are accredited ones. However, a careful search should assure students of the quality level of any particular school.
Most importantly, colleges should clearly list the specific association or commission by which they are accredited. Students should look out for misleading phrases, such as those stating that the college is internationally approved or notarized. In addition, students should beware of colleges that list accrediting agencies that are not recognized across the United States.
How Do I Learn More?
Today, the U.S. Department of Education offers an easy way to look up accreditation of postsecondary education institutions through a simple search on its site. Because this department oversees federally and regionally recognized institutions, it helps to hold certain colleges and universities accountable for what they promise their students. Students can also turn to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which is a nationally recognized advocate for postsecondary educational quality.
While a great number of reputable online college programs are accredited today, not all schools are, and potential students must be on guard against educational scams and programs that will not best prepare them for their futures. Thankfully, federal agencies offer ways to check into an institution’s accreditation status, which can quickly set students’ minds at ease.