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What Is Accreditation and Why Does It Matter?

a typewriter and the word accredited typed out


Before you apply for admission to a college or university, ask whether the institution and the specific degree program are accredited. Accreditation is a form of quality control, ensuring that institutions of higher education satisfy certain standards.

In other countries, colleges and universities are recognized by a government education agency, such as the Ministry of Education. In the United States, however, the U.S. Department of Education does not directly certify colleges and universities.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes a set of independent accrediting agencies, which, in turn, review the colleges and universities and their programs. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) advises the U.S. Department of Education on the recognition of accrediting agencies.

Thus, an accreditor is an enforcer of quality. Accreditors ensure that the college has sufficient resources, faculty, facilities and student services. But, accreditation goes beyond counting the number of volumes in the college library.

Accreditors also evaluate the quality of the teaching and coursework, assess student learning and determine whether the faculty have sufficient expertise in the academic majors. Accreditation involves peer reviews of the institution by professors, provosts and presidents from other schools.

Accreditation in the U.S. provides students with certain additional benefits:

  • A college or university must be accredited by one of the federally-recognized accreditors for students to be eligible for U.S. federal student aid.
  • The college or university must be accredited before graduates can sit for state licensing exams. In some cases, the specific degree program may need to be accredited. 
  • Employers often consider whether a college is accredited.

The U.S. Department of Education publishes a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs along with other information about accreditation and an overview of accreditation for college financial aid administrators.

Types of Accreditation

The most common type of accreditation of degree-granting colleges and universities is regional accreditation. The seven regional accreditors are:

All public colleges and universities have regional accreditation. There are also several national accreditation agencies. Many for-profit colleges have national accreditation. Many colleges with regional accreditation will not accept transfer credits from colleges with national accreditation.

Each regional accreditor lists the colleges accredited by them and the current status of their accreditation. There is also specialized accreditation, also known as programmatic accreditation, for accreditation of specific degree programs.

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