As you begin to consider online degree programs, you may be wondering about the issue of accreditation: What does it mean? How does it work? Why is it important?
Online degrees offer a great opportunity for students to advance their education, especially if they do not have the time or money to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school. However, despite the growing popularity of distance learning programs, so-called “diploma mills” still exist, and the last thing you want after finally making the decision to go back to school is to come out with a bogus degree.
One way to ensure that you have the best educational experience possible — and that you get a legitimate degree — is to choose a program that is accredited. An accredited online degree program has been evaluated by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to determine that it meets certain levels of quality and integrity. Students should be aware of two types of accreditation: Institutional accreditation means that the school as a whole meets regional agency standards, while specialized accreditation applies to specific programs or departments within a larger institution that have been evaluated by an accrediting agency with expertise in that field.
Although both types of accreditation are important, they are only one indication that a program is reputable. In fact, accreditation is an entirely voluntary process, so there are many new and legitimate online degree programs that are not accredited. Institutions must first evaluate themselves according to accreditation standards before an agency performs its own investigation. A school is then given either pre-accreditation or accreditation status or their request is denied. The process takes time (five to 10 years in some cases) and money to complete, which is why many schools, especially newer ones, choose to forgo accreditation.
Accreditation is important for several reasons. First and foremost, with a number of phony online degree programs out there, you want to make sure that you are receiving a quality education. Choosing to advance your skills and training is not an easy decision, and you should get the most out of your investment. The truth is that while online degree programs are gaining respect, some institutions and employers remain skeptical about the effectiveness of distance learning. Getting an online degree or taking online classes from an accredited institution makes it much more likely that your education will be taken seriously. Students who want to transfer online credits from one institution to another will have an easier time doing so if they are from an accredited school. In addition, students who attend accredited institutions are more likely to qualify for financial aid.
To find out whether or not a program is accredited, you can check with the particular school or institution to which you are applying, but it may be smarter to look elsewhere. Believe it or not, there are many bogus accrediting agencies out there, too. Students can find a list of approved institutional and specialized accrediting agencies, as well as accredited institutions, on the website for the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.
Online degrees offer a new and exciting opportunity for people to advance their education, but as with any new venture, it is important to do your research. Accreditation is just one of several factors that students should keep in mind when considering whether or not to pursue an online degree. If you are serious about going back to school, then take the time to find the best program out there and make the most out of your educational experience.