Guide to Accreditation

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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 AccreditationWhat’s it For?
Institutional Accreditationentire school, college, or university, can be regional or national
Programmatic Accreditation degree programs within a school
Institutional Accreditation and Programmatic Accreditation

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.

  1. Institutional – Regional Accrediting Organizations
  2. Institutional – National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations
  3. Institutional – National Faith-Related Accrediting Organizations
  4. 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 OrganizationTypeCHEA-Recognition StatusUSDE-Recognition Status
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)RegionalYesYes
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)RegionalYesYes
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)RegionalYesYes
New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)RegionalYesYes
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)RegionalYesYes
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)RegionalYesYes
WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)RegionalYesYes

Institutional National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations

Accrediting OrganizationTypeCHEA RecognitionUSDE Recognition
Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)National Career-RelatedNoYes
Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)National Career-RelatedNoYes
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)National Career-RelatedNoYes
Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)National Career-RelatedYesYes
Council on Occupational Education (COE)National Career-RelatedNoYes
National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc. (NACCAS)National Career-RelatedNoYes
New York State Board of Regents, The (NYSBR)National Career-RelatedNoYes

Institutional National Faith-Related Accrediting Organizations

Accrediting OrganizationTypeCHEA Recognition USDE Recognition
Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation (ABHE)National Faith-RelatedYesYes
Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, Accreditation Commission (AARTS)National Faith-RelatedYesYes
Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies (AIJS)National Faith-RelatedNoYes
Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)National Faith-RelatedYesYes
Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission (TRACS)National Faith-RelatedYesYes

Programmatic Accrediting Organizations

Academic ProgramAccrediting BodyWebsite
Allied Health Education ProgramsCommission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)website
Animal Resources FacilityAssociation for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Carewebsite
Art and DesignNational Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditationwebsite
Athletic TrainingCommission 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 Pathologywebsite
AviationAviation Accreditation Board International (AABI)website
Behavior AnalysisAssociation for Behavior Analysis International Accreditation Board (ABAI)website
Business (IACBE)International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)website
Business and AccountingThe Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business (AACSB) Internationalwebsite
ChemistryCertification by the American Chemistry Societywebsite
Chiropractic EducationCouncil on Chiropractic Education (CCE)website
Clinical Laboratory SciencesNational Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)website
Clinical Mental Health CounselingCouncil for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)website
Communication DisordersCouncil on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CAA)website
Computer ScienceComputing Accreditation Commission of ABETwebsite
Construction EducationAmerican Council for Construction Education (ACCE)website
Continuing Medical EducationAccreditation Council for Continuing Medical Educationwebsite
CulinaryAmerican Culinary Federation Education Foundation, Inc. (ACFEF-AC)website
DieteticsAccreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)website
Doctor of Physical TherapyCommission of Accreditation in Physical Therapy Educationwebsite
Early Childhood EducationNational Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)website
EduTeacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)website
Edu Prep – School CounselingCouncil for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)website
Edu Prep – Secondary Education ProgramsCouncil for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP))website
Edu Prep – Special EducationCouncil for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)website
Educator Preparation (AAQEP)Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP)website
Engineering Mechanical EngineeringEngineering Accreditation Commission of ABETwebsite
ESL English as a Second LanguageTeachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)website
Forensic ScienceForensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC)website
Forensic Science (AAFA)American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)website
Funeral Service EducationAmerican Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) Committee on Accreditationwebsite
Graphic DesignNational Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditationwebsite
Health InformaticsCommission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Educationwebsite
Healthcare ManagementCommission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)website
Hospitality Administration (ACPHA)Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA)website
Human ServicesCouncil for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE)website
Industrial DesignNational Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditationwebsite
Industrial TechnologyAssociation of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE)website
Interior DesignCouncil for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)website
Journalism & Mass CommunicationAssociation for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)website
Landscape ArchitectureLandscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB-ASLA)website
Leadership StudiesAmerican Society of Landscape Architectswebsite
Library and Information StudiesAmerican Library Association (ALA-CoA) Committee on Accreditationwebsite
Literacy EducationInternational Literacy Association (ILA)website
Marriage and Family TherapyCommission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE-AAMFT)website
MathematicsNational Council on Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)website
Medical ImagingJoint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)website
Medical Lab Tech/Medical TechnologyNational Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)website
Medical PhysicsCommission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs, Inc. (CAMPEP)website
Medicine (MD)Liaison Committee on Medical Educationwebsite
MusicNational Association of Schools of Music (NASM)website
Nuclear Medicine TechnologyJoint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)website
Nurse AnesthesiaCouncil on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programswebsite
Nurse AnesthesiaCouncil on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA-NAEP)website
Nursing (ASN and BSN)Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing,
Nursing (MSN)Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing,
Occupational Safety and Health (BS)Applied Science Accreditation Commission of ABETwebsite
Occupational Safety and Health (BS)Board of Certified Safety Professionalswebsite
Occupational TherapyAmerican Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA-ACOTE) Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Educationwebsite
OpticianryCommission on Opticianry Accreditation (COA)website
Optometric EducationAccreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) American Optometric Associationwebsite
Pharmacy Pharm. D. (Doctor of Pharmacy)Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Educationwebsite
Physical TherapyAmerican Physical Therapy Association (APTA-CAPTE) Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Educationwebsite
Physician Assistant ProgramAccreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Incwebsite
PodiatryAmerican Podiatric Medical Association (APMA-CPME) Council on Podiatric Medical Educationwebsite
PsychologyAmerican Psychological Association (APA-CoA) Commission on Accreditationwebsite
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 AdministrationNetwork of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation (COPRA)website
Recreation and ParksCouncil on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions (COAPRT)website
Residency and Fellowship ProgramsAccreditation Council for Graduate Medical Educationwebsite
Respiratory TherapyCommission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)website
School CounselingCouncil for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)website
School PsychologyNational Association of School Psychologists (NASP)website
Social WorkCouncil on Social Work Education (CSWE)website
Speech-Language-HearingCouncil on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA-ASHA) American Speech-Language-Hearing Associationwebsite
Sport ManagementCommission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)website
Urban PlanningPlanning Accreditation Board (PAB)website
Veterinary MedicineAmerican 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.


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