Understanding accreditation to choose the best online universities
Online education is gaining more acceptance with both employers and academic institutions. Several higher education institutes are now accepting credits from accredited online degree programs. Employers, too, view online degrees from top accredited universities as being on par with traditional on-campus degrees. However, it is vital to get your degree from the best online universities accredited by a relevant authority.
Your choice of online school and program must meet several criteria before you enroll in it. One of the most significant factors is accreditation.
What is accreditation?
- Accreditation is a stamp of approval on a university or college, or on specific programs from universities.
- The accreditation process is conducted by independent and recognized accrediting agencies to ensure that the institution and its programs meet the highest standards.
- There are different types of accrediting agencies — national, regional, professional, etc.
What are the types of accreditation?
There are two types of accreditation. These are:
- Institutional accreditation: This accreditation is approval by a recognized agency for the entire university or college.
- Program-level accreditation: These are generally granted for career-oriented degrees by relevant expert bodies or professional association. If you are pursuing a degree that needs a license, or if you are enrolled in a professional degree course, you may need this kind of accreditation.
What are the types of accrediting agencies?
There are state, national, regional, and professional accreditation agencies. Recently, many online schools have received state accreditation, which may mean the school is licensed to operate in a specific state.
- National accreditation agencies: Some examples of national accreditation agencies are Accreditation Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, and Direct Education & Training Council. There are other national accreditation agencies like the Association of Theological Schools that grants accreditation for theological education in the US and Canada.
- Regional accreditation agencies: Most highly reputed universities like Harvard University, University of Maryland, etc. have regional accreditation. There are a total of six regional accrediting agencies. These are Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools (MSA), Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS), North Central Association of Colleges & Schools (NCA), New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities (NASC), and Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC).
- Program level accreditation: Professional associations, agencies composed of field experts, etc. grant this type of accreditation. Some examples are the American Psychological Association, American Bar Association, and the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education.
Do the accrediting agencies need to have approval?
- Yes. To ensure that you are not misled by schools and programs with spurious accreditation, make sure that the accrediting agencies are valid. These agencies need a seal of approval from a supervisory authority.
- In the country, the institutions that recognize accrediting bodies are the US Department of Education (DoE), and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
- Be sure to visit the websites of these organizations to verify if the accreditation for a school or program is valid.
What are the steps of the accreditation process?
- The process begins with a self-review where institutions are expected to provide evidence that they meet high standards in classrooms, in training, in their curriculum, in their facilities, in their faculty, and so on.
- The accreditation process also involves an on-site inspection by a team of administrators, teachers, and experts in education.
- Accreditation is not a one time action. It is an ongoing monitoring and review process to ensure that the educational institutions continue to meet the standards set by the accreditation agencies.
What is the value of accreditation?
- Degrees from accredited universities hold more value than a non-accredited one.
- You can transfer credits while enrolling in a higher degree course at another university.
- Accreditation also holds high value while seeking employment with an online degree. Though online degrees are gaining more acceptance from employers now than in the previous decade, employers will not consider degrees from institutions without valid accreditation.
- While national accreditation is valid, academic institutions do not view these as being on par with the older and more traditional regional accreditation. So, preferably, choose the best online universities accredited by regional accreditors. Regional accreditation generally has more rigorous review processes.
- For employment, a valid accreditation for the online university or program is enough, especially for accredited online degree programs from reputed universities.
- Professional accreditation may add another level of validity for employment if you have completed a career-oriented degree program.
- Online education provides a schedule and learning flexibility for students. Hence, people who are employed or have family commitments choose online programs for higher education.
- However, before you enroll, make sure that you choose a degree program from one of the best online universities accredited by a valid authority. Also, look for program-level accreditation for career-oriented degrees.