The proliferation of online degree programs is arguably one of the most important shifts in higher education of the last 50 years, and accredited online colleges have helped many industry professionals further their career aspirations. The flexible formats and increasingly effective curricula found within today’s online degree programs are major attractions for adult students who often juggle full time work schedules and family responsibilities. For these students, homework starts early because they must perform research to find out if their schools of choice are legitimately accredited. Many times this just takes a few internet searches or some phone calls.
Here are a few reasons why it is important to verify accreditation for online colleges, the types of accreditation credentials that are available for these schools and the organizations that oversee college accreditation.
Why is Accreditation Important?
The accreditation process helps to ensure that colleges provide students with quality academic programs through the efficient use of its human and material resources. Ideally, accredited colleges are accountable to the public to maintain the industry standards that relate to faculty and staff hiring criteria as well as those that pertain to the schools’ administrative financial functions.
Authentic accreditation of online degree programs is also a major consideration of other academic institutions as well as industry employers. Students who attend online degree programs that are not appropriately accredited are often disappointed when they seek to transfer their earned college credits to other legitimately accredited schools. They are more than disappointed when they complete their online undergraduate degree programs through non-accredited colleges and find that they are not eligible to attend reputable graduate schools later. Some industry employers also check the accreditation credentials of the alma maters of employment candidates when they are not familiar with the schools that are listed on the candidates’ resumes. Jobs seekers who have degrees from schools that do not have legitimate accreditation credentials can be passed over for employment opportunities without really understanding why.
Types of Accreditation Available for Online Colleges
Accreditation agencies for colleges and universities can be categorized as national or regional. National accreditation is common for strictly online colleges. The Distance Education and Training Council accredits online colleges that teach a variety of disciplines that include trades and vocational subjects. Also, a number of faith based online degree programs are nationally accredited through the Association of Theological Schools in the United States (U.S.) and Canada.
Colleges that have central physical locations or satellite campuses can go through the process of gaining regional accreditation. There are a total of six regional accreditation organizations throughout the U.S., and they are New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Regional accreditation is usually considered more rigorous than national accreditation, and many regionally accredited schools do not accept academic credentials from nationally accredited colleges. The exception may be nationally accredited professional schools like those for dentistry or optometry.
Organizations that Accredit the Accreditation Agencies
Accreditation agencies must meet certain requirements to be qualified to direct the activities of the nation’s colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation are the only two organizations that determine the legitimacy of all accreditation agencies for colleges. By contacting these organizations, students determine whether prospective colleges and universities have authentic accreditation credentials.
Many students who attend online degree programs are bright and have great work ethics that they demonstrate daily in their professional and personal lives, but choosing the wrong online college has the potential of undoing much of their hard work. Private, for profit online colleges are particularly prone to have questionable accreditation credentials, but many are legitimately accredited online colleges with great academic programs.