Today there are more than 4,700 colleges and universities in the United States,* and now more than ever students are looking for good colleges where they can earn a degree to start or advance their career. Determining what makes a college good can be tricky for any student and his or her family, but the first and best place to start when whittling down the potential options is accreditation.
Postsecondary education in the United States has long been the envy of other countries, yet the U.S. higher education system lacks a centralized federal authority. Instead, there are a number of nationally recognized accreditors authorized to approve—or accredit—colleges and universities and their programs, based on the quality of education being provided.†
What Is an Accredited University?
According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), “the goal of accreditation is to ensure higher education institutions meet acceptable levels of quality.” When an institution undergoes accreditation, quality assurance and continuous improvement are both evaluated. Achieving accreditation communicates confidence in academic quality for students and can influence employers when evaluating candidates or contemplating employees’ tuition support.
While there are various accrediting bodies, accreditation is split into two groups: institutional (entire institution) and specialized or programmatic. Institutional accreditation is granted by regional and national accreditors.† According to the DOE, regionally accredited higher education institutions—including online universities—make up more than 85% of all colleges in the U.S. Schools that offer trade, vocational, or career education are eligible for national accreditation.‡ Within a university, colleges, schools, or specific degree programs that may lead to certification or licensure receive specialized accreditation.
Top Accrediting Agencies to Consider When Choosing a College Degree Program
Accreditation is critical when earning a degree online or in person, whether it’s a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, especially if you plan on using federal student aid to finance your education.† However, the number and types of accrediting bodies and organizations can be overwhelming. To help, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) identifies and affirms that standards and processes of accrediting bodies are “consistent with the academic quality, improvement, and accountability expectations that CHEA has established.”§ Here are top accrediting agencies to look out for when performing a college search:
- Regional: There are six regional accrediting organizations: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), Western Association of Schools and Colleges; Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE), Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).§
- National: There are many national accreditors. Those recognized by CHEA include the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), Commission on Accreditation; Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), Accreditation Commission; Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS); Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), Accreditation Commission; Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS); and Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).§
- Programmatic or Specialized: There are so many fields—from culinary arts to journalism to physical therapy—but here are examples of some top accrediting organizations to keep in mind when deciding on where to pursue your college degree: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC), and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Accreditation is important when determining the quality of colleges and universities, whether they’re suitable for enrollment, and whether another institution will accept a transfer of credits. It’s important to note that not all degree programs are (or need to be) accredited, even when they are being offered by an accredited university. That said, pay careful attention to whether accreditation for your degree program of choice is required for your particular career path.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
*U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts: Educational Institutions, Digest of Education Statistics, 2015, on the internet at https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=84.
†U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States, on the internet at https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation.html#Overview.
‡U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Education and Training: Choosing a School, on the internet at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/choosing_a_school.asp.
§Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2016–2017 Directory of CHEA-Recognized Organizations, https://kry224-site0001.maxesp.net/pdf/directory-CHEA-recognized-orgs.pdf.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.