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Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Accreditation

Many colleges and universities claim to be accredited. But students don’t often know exactly what that means. And, more importantly, students may not realize that not all accreditations were made equal.

Generally speaking, colleges and universities need accreditation to make the grade. But the word ‘accredited’ offers no guarantees. Students have to dig a bit to ensure that they choose a sound school.

What does accredited mean?
Accredited means that an organization has been given an official stamp of approval to operate based on having met the professional standards of practice. Begun over a hundred years ago, the goal of the accreditation process in education is to make certain that institutions of higher learning provide an acceptable standard of education.

What is an accredited college?
An accredited college is a post-secondary institution of higher learning that upholds acceptable educational standards. Degrees should be recognized across the board, so graduates can be admitted to other respected institutions of higher learning or earn professional credentials. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, accreditation currently provides the following for the public good:

How are schools accredited?
A college, university, or other institution is accredited when it has successfully passed through a process of evaluation by a peer review board from an accrediting agency. Faculty from accredited colleges and universities make up the board, fleshing out the evaluation criteria. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes regional, faith-based, private career, and specialized accreditors.

What is an accrediting agency?
An accrediting agency is a private, nongovernmental organization created for the primary purpose of assessing the quality of higher education institutions and educational programs. Approximately 60 such organizations have been reviewed and are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education. Eight of these are regional, four faith-based, and the remainder are specialized and professional accrediting associations. Any accrediting agency not listed by the CHEA should be inspected carefully for legitimacy.

What are diploma and accreditation mills?
A diploma mill is a dubious and bogus provider of educational services. An accreditation mill is similarly disreputable, providing accreditation to institutions of higher education. Both are to be avoided. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a few states have laws regulating accrediting agencies, but most do not. For this reason, students must arduously apply their research skills to avoid fraudulent organizations.

Why is accreditation important?
Students should always take care to assess a college or university’s accreditation, assuring the legitimacy of the degrees granted by the institution. A degree from an institution with dubious accreditation can lead to the loss of job and reputation. For example, according to Diploma Mill News, Dallas City Secretary Shari Kuykendall received her international certification as a municipal clerk and then got a nice hefty pay raise. But Kuykendall was forced to resign after it became all too clear to Kuykendall and her employer that the university from which she got her credential was a sham.

How can I assess my college’s accreditation?
By carefully examining the accrediting agency, students can verify the quality of the institution in which they enrol. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation suggests posing the following questions to evaluate a college’s accreditation.

Accreditation is a complex matter. But armed with knowledge, students can track down the excellent education they deserve.��

Publish date: June 13, 2008