What's the Difference Between Accredited & Non-Accredited Degree Programs?
Read on to understand the difference between accredited and non-accredited programs, get information about regional and national accreditation, and learn how to avoid non-accredited colleges.
What Does 'Accredited College' Mean?
The term 'accredited college' is used to refer to a postsecondary institution that has been approved for meeting certain standards. These standards are set by several organizations that are dedicated to ensuring academic excellence. Different organizations are dedicated to accrediting different things. For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) accredits law schools, while the Liaison Committee on Medical Education accredits medical schools.
Accredited vs Non-Accredited
Not every program or school is accredited. To become accredited, an institution has to meet several standards of excellence set by an accrediting organization. These standards can include academic quality, ethics, integrity, learning experience, and student experience, among others. If a school or program is accredited, it has been vetted for educational excellence and student success. If an individual wants to become an engineer, for example, ABET accreditation can ensure they will learn from a quality engineering program.
When an institution is non-accredited, however, there is no way to verify the quality of their education or their integrity. Because of this, students attending the school aren't eligible for student aid because the federal government only grants funds to accredited institutions. Pursuing a degree from a non-accredited program can be a risk. For example, becoming a child psychologist requires a license and some states won't grant licenses for graduates of non-accredited programs, or the application process can be more difficult for them.
Types of Accreditation
There are 4 major types of accreditation; programmatic, institutional, regional, and national. Programmatic accreditation means a specific program at a college is accredited, while institutional accreditation means the college as a whole is accredited. Regional and national accreditation play a larger role in education and career opportunities.
Regional accreditation usually goes towards more traditional colleges. These institutions are typically public, academic-focused, non-profit colleges and are degree-granting. The term 'regional' is due to the fact that many of the organizations that offer this type of accreditation operate in one geographical area of the country.
National accreditation usually goes towards career, vocational, or technical schools, including distance learning options. Many national accreditation organizations grant program-specific accreditation instead of or in addition to general institutional accreditation. These institutions are usually career-focused, private, for-profit or faith-based, and grant degrees as well as certificates.
Regional vs National: Does It Matter?
Depending on your education and career goals, attending a nationally or regionally accredited school can make a difference. These institutions generally only accept transfer credits from other schools that have the same type of accreditation. So if you're interested in pursuing a master's degree from a regionally accredited school, but your bachelor's degree is from a nationally accredited school, your credits may not transfer.
State boards operate the same way. If you need a license to work in your desired career, a state board may only grant licenses towards graduates of colleges with certain accreditation. However, schools and states have their own requirements, so it's best to do your research.
How to Find Accredited Programs
Understanding accreditation can be overwhelming. Below are simple bullet points that demonstrate how the accreditation structure works, so you know where to look and what to look for when you do your own research.
- Associations such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) review accreditation organizations to ensure they are legitimate
- Accrediting organizations, such as the ABA, review postsecondary institutions and programs to ensure they meet requirements for quality education
- Postsecondary institutions and programs receive the accreditation and should clearly state it
Both CHEA and the USDE have a list of accreditation organizations they recognize on their websites. Accreditation organizations usually have a similar list of institutions and programs that they have accredited. Doing your research ahead of time can save you a lot of future trouble.