As a prospective online student who is making the decision to further their education, many factors come into play when choosing a school: cost, program curriculum, school reputation and your end goal (career, personal interest or hobby, etc.). As you research online schools an important consideration is the school’s accreditation.
There is nothing similar in the world of education to the distinction of proper accreditation. Either a school is reviewed, accredited and recognized as a legitimate and effective educational institution, or it is not. A nationally accredited online college assures the earned degree is accepted and respected.
A school achieves accreditation regionally and from one of six U.S. Department of Education recognized bodies. Through a peer and self-review process that must be reaffirmed periodically, a school is measured for institutional quality. The six recognized agencies are:
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont)
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon Utah, Washington)
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (California, Hawaii)
It is easy to search any of these sites to check if the school you are interested in is accredited.
For the student planning on applying one’s degree to further their career, enrolling in an accredited online college degree program is important because many employers, the military, graduate schools, and the government generally do not recognize degrees from non-accredited programs. It is quite a disappointment to complete a degree and learn it is unaccepted by a potential employer or to apply to graduate program.
Further, it is vital to know that any college must have accreditation from one of the above accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible to offer federal student aid programs. Without this distinction, a student cannot receive federally supported aid, which can make enrollment fees sometimes insurmountable.
Sometimes a student might find a school that is a perfect fit for their career goals that is not accredited. Great examples are technical training or vocational programs such as dental hygiene, emergency medical technicians (EMT), or even medical transcription. Some non-accredited institutes circumvent federal student aid by providing cost-assistance and finance programs for those in need.
For the student seeking to learn more for the sake of learning, whether a degree is accredited or not isn’t vital. Oftentimes this might include a retiree, or person interested in something specific for personal use, such as writing skills to write a book or photography as a hobby.
A final word for the prospective student is to do some due diligence. Explore and decide what the goal of your education will be – whether it is for pleasure, to earn your first bachelor’s degree or be certified in a specific vocation – then begin comparing accredited online schools that align with your goals. Remember, investing in your education is an investment in your future so be certain of what you are undertaking!