Buyer Beware: Why Your School Should Be Accredited

In the United States, educational institutions are allowed to operate with a great deal of freedom. Accreditation is awarded to schools that meet basic standards of academic quality. These standards are determined and developed by private organizations.

There are several large, regional accrediting associations, such as the Northwest Commision on Colleges and Universities, which accredit institutions within a particular area of the United States. These groups generally award accreditation to an entire university. There are also, however, smaller, specialized accreditation agencies. These agencies typically accredit smaller components of an institution, such as a nursing program or a psychology department.

How Schools Get Accredited

The process of obtaining accreditation has several steps. First, an accreditation agency works with an educational institution to establish reasonable criteria that must be met to receive accreditation. A school then conducts a self-evaluation with these criteria in mind. If the school determines that it meets the criteria, then it hosts an outside evaluation team sent by the accrediting agency. Once the team is satisfied that the proper standards have been met, the agency officially grants accreditation to the institution. Once this accreditation has been granted, the agency continues to monitor the institution, and occasionally launches a full reevaluation, in order to ensure that it continues to meet the standards.

Why Some Schools Are Not Accredited

Some schools choose not to seek accreditation. This decision may be based on several factors. The accreditation process is costly, and accredited schools generally charge a higher tuition rate. A school might offer a non-traditional learning format that, while it may provide an otherwise complete and comprehensive education, does not adhere to accreditation standards.

Some schools, on the other hand, do not seek accreditation because they run poorly designed, ineffective programs. A school without accreditation does not have either the credibility or the reputation of an accredited school. Future employers, as well as graduate school interviewers, might not consider a diploma valid if it is granted by a school without accreditation. There is no way to tell if the diploma is the result of an intensive course of study or a subpar, perhaps even fraudulent, program.

Accreditation ensures not only the quality of program content, but also the quality of teaching at an institution. Faculty are held to high professional standards in terms of qualifications and teaching ability. Instructors at schools without accreditation may not possess the degree or the experience necessary to teach effectively.

Accreditation and Financial Aid

The majority of college students rely on some sort of financial aid to help them pay for their education. Many students are eligible for loans and grants from the federal government. Federal aid is only offered, however, to students attending an accredited institution. The United States Department of Education maintains a database of federally-recognized accrediting bodies, as well as recognized accredited institutions, at their website. While schools without accreditation are often able to offer lower rates of tuition, students usually end up paying more money out of pocket.

Accreditation and Transferring Credits

For students wishing to transfer from one school to another, most accredited institutions only accept credit from other accredited institutions. Courses taken at a school without accreditation will need to be repeated, costing more time and money.

Don’t be fooled by the low costs of schools without accreditation. The long-term price of attending such an institution is much greater than the tuition of any accredited school. Schools go through the accreditation process in order to provide their students with a worthwhile education that will be recognized by employers and other schools. It’s worth taking advantage of this.

Article Resources:

U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Education Accreditation Database 
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

By Valerie Schirmer

Valerie Schirmer on Google+