Our guide to accreditation explains the process and also the agencies involved in the process on a nation and regional level. Accreditation is a process whereby an external body reviews the operations of an educational institution or program and officially recognizes it as meeting an accepted level of quality. It involves a review of the institution’s curricula, faculty, instructional programs, student services and academic support, among other things. Accreditation is intended to ensure that colleges and universities maintain specific levels of educational quality.
How are Schools Accredited?
There are two main types of school accreditation. Institutional accreditation is granted by regional and national accrediting commissions of schools and colleges. These commissions and associations accredit the institution as a whole. And specialized accreditation of professional and occupational schools and programs is granted by commissions on accreditation established by national professional organizations.
|Type of Accreditation||What’s it For?|
|Institutional Accreditation||entire school, college, or university, can be regional or national|
|Programmatic Accreditation||degree programs within a school|
How Do You Know if a College or University is Accredited?
At the institutional level, schools can be accredited by either national or regional educational authorities. National accreditation agencies review entire institutions, while regional accreditation agencies only review programs and courses within the institution.
Regional accreditation is usually more important for academic programs and degrees, while national accreditation can be important for professional certifications. Typically, schools earn accreditation by demonstrating academic quality, following specific educational standards, offering curriculum-based learning activities, and providing faculty with adequate resources.
US Department of Education
The US Department of Education (USDE) recognizes accrediting agencies. These agencies recognized by the USDE are listed in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. This database is maintained by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education and includes all Title IV-eligible institutions that have been accredited by an agency or association recognized by the Department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI).
Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an organization of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities that promotes self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation. CHEA supports and guides higher education accrediting organizations by overseeing their compliance with quality and also transparency standards.
CHEA works in harmony with the Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to guide and advise the department on accreditation policy. It also works with other organizations and government agencies, including the Council on Accreditation (COA), the Assuring Quality in Higher Education (AQHE) group, the US Department of Education’s program reviews, and other national and international organizations to improve higher education in the US and abroad.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes accrediting organizations in higher education. Below are the categories.
- Institutional – Regional Accrediting Organizations
- Institutional – National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations
- Institutional – National Faith-Related Accrediting Organizations
- Programmatic Accrediting Organizations
Institutional: Regional vs National
The regional accrediting agencies typically accredit institutions and programs within their own regional domain, though some are starting to accredit nationally. You can find the latest full list of recognized accrediting organizations in the CHEA directory.
The national accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education can accredit colleges and universities across the United States, including online colleges that enroll students from many different parts of the country.
Institutional Regional Accrediting Organizations
|US Recognized Accrediting Organization||Type||CHEA-Recognition Status||USDE-Recognition Status|
|Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|Higher Learning Commission (HLC)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
|WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)||Regional||Yes||Yes|
Institutional National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations
|Accrediting Organization||Type||CHEA Recognition||USDE Recognition|
|Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
|Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
|Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
|Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)||National Career-Related||Yes||Yes|
|Council on Occupational Education (COE)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
|National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc. (NACCAS)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
|New York State Board of Regents, The (NYSBR)||National Career-Related||No||Yes|
Institutional National Faith-Related Accrediting Organizations
|Accrediting Organization||Type||CHEA Recognition||USDE Recognition|
|Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation (ABHE)||National Faith-Related||Yes||Yes|
|Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, Accreditation Commission (AARTS)||National Faith-Related||Yes||Yes|
|Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies (AIJS)||National Faith-Related||No||Yes|
|Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)||National Faith-Related||Yes||Yes|
|Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission (TRACS)||National Faith-Related||Yes||Yes|
Programmatic Accrediting Organizations
|Academic Program||Accrediting Body||Website|
|Allied Health Education Programs||Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)||website|
|Animal Resources Facility||Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care||website|
|Art and Design||National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation||website|
|Athletic Training||Commission on Accreditation for Athletic Training Education (CAATE)||website|
|Audiology (ACAE)||Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE)||website|
|Audiology (ASHA)||Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology||website|
|Aviation||Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI)||website|
|Behavior Analysis||Association for Behavior Analysis International Accreditation Board (ABAI)||website|
|Business (IACBE)||International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)||website|
|Business and Accounting||The Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business (AACSB) International||website|
|Chemistry||Certification by the American Chemistry Society||website|
|Chiropractic Education||Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)||website|
|Clinical Laboratory Sciences||National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)||website|
|Clinical Mental Health Counseling||Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)||website|
|Communication Disorders||Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CAA)||website|
|Computer Science||Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET||website|
|Construction Education||American Council for Construction Education (ACCE)||website|
|Continuing Medical Education||Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education||website|
|Culinary||American Culinary Federation Education Foundation, Inc. (ACFEF-AC)||website|
|Dietetics||Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)||website|
|Doctor of Physical Therapy||Commission of Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education||website|
|Early Childhood Education||National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)||website|
|Edu||Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)||website|
|Edu Prep – School Counseling||Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)||website|
|Edu Prep – Secondary Education Programs||Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP))||website|
|Edu Prep – Special Education||Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)||website|
|Educator Preparation (AAQEP)||Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP)||website|
|Engineering Mechanical Engineering||Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET||website|
|ESL English as a Second Language||Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)||website|
|Forensic Science||Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC)||website|
|Forensic Science (AAFA)||American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)||website|
|Funeral Service Education||American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) Committee on Accreditation||website|
|Graphic Design||National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation||website|
|Health Informatics||Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education||website|
|Healthcare Management||Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)||website|
|Hospitality Administration (ACPHA)||Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA)||website|
|Human Services||Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE)||website|
|Industrial Design||National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation||website|
|Industrial Technology||Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE)||website|
|Interior Design||Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)||website|
|Journalism & Mass Communication||Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)||website|
|Landscape Architecture||Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB-ASLA)||website|
|Leadership Studies||American Society of Landscape Architects||website|
|Library and Information Studies||American Library Association (ALA-CoA) Committee on Accreditation||website|
|Literacy Education||International Literacy Association (ILA)||website|
|Marriage and Family Therapy||Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE-AAMFT)||website|
|Mathematics||National Council on Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)||website|
|Medical Imaging||Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)||website|
|Medical Lab Tech/Medical Technology||National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)||website|
|Medical Physics||Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs, Inc. (CAMPEP)||website|
|Medicine (MD)||Liaison Committee on Medical Education||website|
|Music||National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)||website|
|Nuclear Medicine Technology||Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)||website|
|Nurse Anesthesia||Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs||website|
|Nurse Anesthesia||Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA-NAEP)||website|
|Nursing (ASN and BSN)||Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc.||website|
|Nursing (MSN)||Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc.||website|
|Occupational Safety and Health (BS)||Applied Science Accreditation Commission of ABET||website|
|Occupational Safety and Health (BS)||Board of Certified Safety Professionals||website|
|Occupational Therapy||American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA-ACOTE) Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education||website|
|Opticianry||Commission on Opticianry Accreditation (COA)||website|
|Optometric Education||Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) American Optometric Association||website|
|Pharmacy Pharm. D. (Doctor of Pharmacy)||Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education||website|
|Physical Therapy||American Physical Therapy Association (APTA-CAPTE) Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education||website|
|Physician Assistant Program||Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc||website|
|Podiatry||American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA-CPME) Council on Podiatric Medical Education||website|
|Psychology||American Psychological Association (APA-CoA) Commission on Accreditation||website|
|Psychology (PCSAS)||Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS)||website|
|Psychology and Counseling (MPCAC)||Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)||website|
|Public Affairs and Administration||Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation (COPRA)||website|
|Recreation and Parks||Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions (COAPRT)||website|
|Residency and Fellowship Programs||Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education||website|
|Respiratory Therapy||Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)||website|
|School Counseling||Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)||website|
|School Psychology||National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)||website|
|Social Work||Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)||website|
|Speech-Language-Hearing||Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA-ASHA) American Speech-Language-Hearing Association||website|
|Sport Management||Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)||website|
|Urban Planning||Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)||website|
|Veterinary Medicine||American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education (COE)||website|
Why Does Accreditation Matter So Much?
Accreditation matters in many different ways. It confirms that the educational institution meets established quality standards. And it allows students to take advantage of government financial aid programs. It also signals to employers the student has preparation for the job market. Accreditation also allows students to transfer credits between schools since credits can only transfer between accredited institutions. Finally, it provides quality assurance to the public that it meets standards of teaching, course design, and student assessments.
How Do you Know if a School or Program has Accreditation?
Below are the general steps to confirm if an online degree program or online school has accreditation.
1. Research Accreditation. Begin by researching the accreditation of the school. Make sure it holds accreditation from an agency recognized by the US Department of Education. Look for up-to-date information and ask for clarification on any unfamiliar terms.
2. Check the School’s Website. Read the website of the school and search for accreditation information. Many schools will have an “about” or “accreditation” page. If the school doesn’t have this type of page, it may not have accreditation.
3. Verify with the Accrediting Agency. If the school’s website provides details on its accreditation, contact the agency directly to confirm. The US Department of Education offers contact information on its website.
4. Read Student Reviews. Read student reviews from independent sources and learn more. Example sources include the the Better Business Bureau or student review websites.
5. Check with the State Department of Education. Contact the State Department of Education to check if the school has accreditation.
What are Red Flags When Researching Accredited Online Schools ?
1. Unfamiliar. If the accrediting organization is not familiar, then it may have accreditation from an agency not recognized by CHEA or ED. Have other schools and employers in the same region as the school heard of the institution? Do they have a strongly negative perception of it?
2. Unclear: Be wary of schools that do not clearly list their admissions requirements, course fees or course duration.
3. Misleading. Be aware of online schools that make promises or guarantee job placements upon completion of a degree. Or if a school makes hard-to-believe claims like a higher than average salary or employment rates for graduates.
4. Unattainable. Avoid schools that offer unattainable or unrealistic degrees. For example does it offer an unusually short period of time, like six months, for a bachelor’s degree.
5. Missing. Schools without accreditation pose a risk to reputation and make it more difficult to recognize credentials. Also beware if the school’s website doesn’t provide an address for its campus or offices.
Should you Attend a School Without Accreditation?
No, you should not attend a school without accreditation. Schools without accreditation may provide unreliable or low quality education, and may not adequately prepare you for work or admission to a higher level program.
However, attending an accredited school ensures you receive valid educational credentials. And that other schools and universities will accept your credits.