What Does it Mean for a College To Be Accredited?

Since accreditation is an incredibly important facet of education, it’s important to understand what it means for a college to be accredited. Without it, graduates may find themselves with a degree that prospective employers do not respect. Most define accreditation as a status that indicates the school has met and continues to maintain a high level of standards set by the accrediting agency. However, the process itself can be complex, so it is vital to know who accredits, how they are selected and what they look for in a school.

What Does Accreditation Mean?

Institutions of higher learning undergo an accreditation process, which is a voluntary evaluation that ensures these schools are maintaining standards of educational quality set by the accrediting body, according to the US Department of Education Office of Post-secondary Education. Representatives of peer schools belonging to the same agency may conduct assessments and evaluations, or the school may self-study its own programs. In addition to institutional accreditation, schools may also offer programs that are recognized in their specific fields. In other words, specialized accreditation typically applies to certain vocations such as nursing or law. In these cases, the agency evaluates the program’s effectiveness in terms of how well it prepares students to meet the professional standards within the field.

How are Schools Accredited?

The agencies responsible for the accreditation of a school look for a variety of attributes depending on the school itself. Most accrediting agencies specialize in specific kinds of learning institutions. For example, a nursing program will have different accreditation requirements than an engineering program because of the very different fields. However, all institutions must follow some of the same principles that cover every industry and make up the foundation for accreditation. Every accrediting agency requires that schools must have a clear mission statement that helps to better serve and educate the students. In addition, all schools must show that they have the resources to achieve this mission while also showing evidence that they have achieved the mission. Almost all schools must commit to unannounced, periodic external reviews as well as thorough internal review programs to ensure that they are continually meeting accreditation standards.

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

It might seem as though accreditation holds little importance to students, but the reality is that employers take into consideration the school where earned your degree, and they nearly always look to see if the school is accredited by a reliable agency. If a student earns a degree from a school with questionable accreditation, a prospective employer may question the validity of the degree as well as his or her potential as a strong job candidate. Also keep in mind that if a student plans to transfer to another school, the school to which he or she plans to go will not take transfer credits from an unaccredited college.

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While some unaccredited degree programs can certainly offer excellent learning experiences, not all degree programs are created equal. Earning a degree from an unaccredited institution may mean that a student will not be eligible for financial aid, and he or she may not be able to obtain licensure in the field in which he or she plans to work. When thinking about what it means for a college to be accredited, keep in mind that accreditation can make the difference between pursuing an exciting career path or being saddled with worthless credits and debt.