Understanding Accreditation of U.S. Schools and Programs

Last updated on November 15, 2017

Accreditation indicates that a school or program has been reviewed by an accrediting organization against a set of established standards and has met those standards. In the United States, accreditation of colleges and universities and their programs is not performed by the government, but is performed by independent private organizations.

The most important step in finding an accredited school, college or university is to gather detailed information about schools of interest. This information will help you evaluate the accrediting agencies and program accreditations for those schools. Select the degree level, category, and subject of interest in the college finder tool to get detailed information from various colleges.

School Accreditation

In the United States, there are two types of college and university accreditation: regional and national. Most traditional non-profit colleges and universities (like UCLA, Harvard, etc.) are regionally accredited. Most for-profit colleges and universities are nationally accredited. The regional accrediting agencies in the US are divided into six regions:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission
  • Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

There are currently 52 national accrediting agencies depending on the type of school and degree. Make certain the accrediting agency is recognized by the US Department of Education.

Attending an accredited school does not guarantee that credits earned at that school can be transferred to other schools or that a degree earned at that school will be recognized by a particular employer. The transfer of college credits and the value of a degree earned at a school must be researched on an individual basis. Also, attending an accredited school does not guarantee a high quality education. Schools must also be researched for other factors that contribute to a high quality education such as graduation rates, student to teacher ratios, and student loan repayment rates.

Program Accreditation

Some careers require the degree program to be accredited by a particular accrediting organization. Note that the accreditation of a degree program is completely independent of the school accreditation. Also, unlike school accreditation, program accreditation is typically a requirement for an occupation, sometimes by law.

If you are planning on getting an education for a career that requires a particular program accreditation, it is very important to verify that the degree programs you are considering are properly accredited by the appropriate organization.

For instance, if you are considering earning an accredited bachelors degree in nursing as an RN then you should verify that the courses and degree program are accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Some other examples of program accreditation agencies are:

  • American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation for dental degrees
  • American Bar Association for law degrees
  • National Architectural Accrediting Board for degrees in architecture
  • Association of American Medical Colleges for degrees in medicine
  • Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education for degrees in pharmacy

There are a great many others not listed above. The program accreditation agencies and degree requirements are also given for each career in the subject side bar.

Resources

General information about college accreditation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_recognized_higher_education_accreditation_organizations

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_accreditation_in_the_United_States

For the current list of accredited schools and programs in the United States and their accrediting agencies see:

http://www.chea.org/search/

http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/