College Accreditation and Your Education

The vast number of options available for students heading off to college or even thinking about heading to college can be rather daunting. While your educational experience will be what you make of it, wherever you go, there is one key thing you need to consider: is the institution accredited?

In the United States, accreditation means that the institution that you are planning on attending for your higher education is regularly assessed by an independent agency on the quality of the education it provides. There are two types of accreditation: the first is institutional, which refers to the entire institution. The second is program-based and relates to individual programs of study within the institution.

Institutional accreditation is a process that a college or university voluntarily goes through. The institution requests that an accreditation agency assess its programs, its faculty, and its students’ success, in order to determine if these meet with the standards for higher education. If the standards are met, the institution is accredited and regularly reassessed in order to make certain that the entire institution continues to meet that standard.

Within an accredited institution individual programs may be accredited separately from the overall institution. Depending on what career field you want to enter, this may be more important than the institutional accreditation. Psychology, education, medical specialties, engineering, and social work, are fields that often times require that a student’s program was accredited separate from the institution. Program-based accreditation is conducted by the professional associations linked to that field of study, such as the American Psychological Association for Psychology. This type of accreditation makes certain that the program of study meets the standards of the field for the education and experiences that will result in the student having the background that will lead to success in their field.

If you are not sure if the institution or the program you are interested in is accredited and you have thoroughly checked its website and print materials, the United States Department of Education keeps a database of accredited institutions and programs accessible through its website:

Dr. Clairissa D. Breen is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice and Social Work at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. She received her Ph.D. from Temple University and is also certified as an Anti-Terrorism Specialist.