The U.S. Department of Education states that "the goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality." That sounds great, but how do you know which accreditation – regional or national – is best? Honestly, it's not a question of which accreditation is best, but which accreditation best suits your needs.
Whether you're looking for a traditional ground campus experience or searching for the right online program to give you the flexibility you need for your busy schedule, understanding accreditation and how it can impact your future is a must. Take a few minutes to expand your knowledge and become well-prepared for the great college search.
What is accreditation?
Let's start with the basics. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to accredit is "to recognize [an educational institution] as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice." Applying for accreditation from any organization is completely voluntary, which means that by choosing an accredited school, you're choosing a school whose curriculum has been evaluated by peers in academia to ensure a quality learning experience.
In the United States, there are two kinds of institutional accreditation – regional and national.
What is regional accreditation?
Regional accreditation is granted to each institution by one of six organizations that focus mainly on academia and research-related areas of study. Each organization focuses on a specific region in the United States, hence the name regional accreditation.
What is national accreditation?
National accreditation is granted by independent organizations that focus largely on career-oriented areas of study. Each organization focuses on accrediting schools that align with their organizational goals, no matter where they may be, rather than focusing on a geographical location.
Which is best for me?
For those still struggling to make sure they're taking the right path, take a moment to really evaluate your future goals. As you do so, keep the following advice in mind.
- If you're planning on transferring credits to another school or pursuing further education in the future, your best bet is to stick with a regionally accredited institution.
- If you're looking for a trade-specific skill set that will serve as your last degree or as an addition to a degree you've already completed, a nationally accredited institution might be right for you.