Q&A: What Is Accreditation?

Answer: Accreditation means a college/university agrees to a voluntary review from other peers and "accredited" colleges to maintain a high level of educational standards. Accredited colleges agree to be evaluated based on their programs and/or school, overall. All colleges must have state approval to operate as an educational institution, but not all have accreditation. Accreditation tells the education community and, more importantly, the student body that the college/university is striving to meet the goals they've set for themselves.

There are different levels and types of accreditation. Schools can be accredited at the regional or national level and/or may have a specialized accreditation. There are six agencies that offer regional accreditation for online schools. To earn accreditation at this level, the online school must be evaluated by the agency that oversees accreditation for their particular state. All six of the agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

When schools are seeking national accreditation, it's usually because they offer programs or courses that aren't the same as "traditional" programs. Therefore, national accreditation allows these schools to be compared and evaluated with other schools that are "non-traditional," as well. National accreditation offers different categories and takes specialty programs into consideration when measuring standards. Many online schools and schools that specialize in trade and religious education are nationally accredited.

Specialized accreditation is when schools have programs that are accredited by specific agencies, based on the program study, careers and/or career associations. Some examples are medical programs that are accredited by the American Medical Association (AMA) or American Bar Association (ABA).

When you are looking at online schools, it's good to know what career fields interest you. Do your research on these types of jobs to see if accreditation or certification is necessary. If your career field requires a license or certification, you may only be able to earn this at an accredited school. As a student, the goal is to complete your program and/or graduate, start a career and be successful. Make sure you do your research and ask the right questions to help you get there. To see a list of accredited schools, visit http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!