In the United States, higher-education institutions operate with relative freedom and autonomy. Because of this, graduate programs may vary in terms of quality and character. To ensure that students have access high quality education and to establish relative academic equanimity between institutions, private and nongovernmental agencies in the U.S. set up a process of review called “accreditation”.
What is Accreditation?
According to the U.S. Department of Educationi, “The goal of college accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” The U.S. Department of Educationii also states that “the practice of accreditation arose in the United States as a means of conducting nongovernmental, peer evaluation of educational institutions and programs”. Both on-campus and online schools and programs can be accredited.
Many (but not all) colleges and universities in the United States go through a rigorous process of accreditation to prove that their curricula, staff, and programs meet established standards of quality. Once they have been accredited by an accrediting agency, they must continue to offer quality programs and reapply for college accreditation on a regular basis.
The Importance of Earning a Degree from an Accredited Online College
When searching for online graduate degree programs, it is important to look for accredited online colleges. There are five primary reasons to do so:
- The majority of accredited online colleges and universities in the U.S. will only accept transfer credits and degrees from other accredited online universities or academic institutions. Therefore, if you intend to transfer or earn your PhD after your master’s program, it may be wise to attend an accredited school.
- Financial aid that may be available to qualified students in the forms of grants, scholarships, and loans may be refused to students who attend unaccredited schools. If you wish to pursue financial aid to complete help you pay for your degree from an online graduate program, it might be wise for you to make sure you attend an accredited school
- Many employers refuse to acknowledge degrees professionals earn through unaccredited schools. Therefore, if you are earning your master’s degree online to enhance your employment opportunities, it is important to attend an accredited online university.
- Many professions such as psychology, teaching, and nursing require professionals to obtain certification upon the completion of their programs. Some certifying agencies might not certify students who did not attend an accredited school. Therefore, if your career path requires certification, it may be incredibly important for individuals interested in fields that require licensure to attend accredited online colleges.
- Some unaccredited schools lack predictable quality, structure, format, and even existence. If you want to earn a degree from an institution that is likely to continue to offer educational services in the future, you may want to attend an accredited school. College accreditation may be an indication of a graduate program that is solid, dependable, and built to last.
If you are attending an online college, it is even more important to confirm its accreditation status. Some unscrupulous organizations may convince students to register for online learning programs that are low quality, unstable, and in some cases, non-existent. Checking an online programs accreditation status may help ensure you enroll in a high-quality, stable, and respected school.
How to Find Accredited Online Colleges
To determine whether or not an online program or college is accredited, visit the U.S. Department of Education here. Through this link, you will gain access to a list of accredited institutions as well as an option for looking up specific institutions. Additionally, call the college or university of your choice and ask whether or not it is accredited; if it claims to be accredited, confirm by checking with the regional accreditation agency for the area that the school is located in. You can find its regional accreditation agency through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.