When a student is planning on investing thousands of dollars and several years of his or her life in earning a degree from a college or university, he or she wants to be sure that their education will be of the highest quality and the best value. Researching schools can be frustrating and tedious, as there is so much to take in to account: location, cost, quality of instructors, curriculum, degrees, professional opportunities for graduates, financial aid, support programs, and extracurricular opportunities. However, research is an important part of the educational process, and students should also be aware of the need to check for accreditation when researching various schools. No matter how great a school or program may seem, if it is not accredited it may not be what a student is looking for.
Students who are planning on using federal financial aid grant and loan money to fund their education must attend an accredited school. Any student who is earning an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree with the intention of transferring or going on to another school must also attend an accredited school because accredited institutions will not accept credits earned at non-accredited schools.
What Accreditation Is
Accreditation is a credential that is set forth by a certain accrediting organization, which is a third party board that exists to ensure that schools are living up to high standards and doing all they can in service of students.
There are several types of accreditation, but the most common type is regional accreditation. There are six regional accrediting boards operating in the United States. Generally, any public university or college in the United States is required by law to gain and retain accreditation in order to receive tax-payer funding, so schools remain dedicated to meeting accreditation standards, and students generally do not need to check and see if one of these popular schools has the proper accreditations (though they are certainly welcome to do so). Smaller schools pursue accreditation to attract more students and to provide students with federal financial aid.
Some third-party specialist organizations have their own accrediting boards. For example, the American Bar Association has its own accrediting standards for law schools. The State of New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services has its own accrediting board to ensure tha all criminal justice programs, including police training, in the state meet certain standards. (New York Division of Criminal Justice)
Checking a School’s Accreditation
Students can check a school’s accreditation through the individual school’s website or through the website of the accrediting board. The United States Department of Education is also required to keep a public database that lists all accredited post-secondary programs. (DOE)