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One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a college or university is whether your school of choice is accredited nationally or regionally at the institution level. Accreditation type plays a role in areas that impact you as both a student (such as cost or how many credits may transfer if you switch schools) and after graduation (such as employability, tuition reimbursement, and employer background checks).
Learn more about the differences between national and regional institutional accreditation, why it’s important that your school is accredited, and tips to help verify your college or university’s accreditation status.
Educational institutions are either regionally or nationally accredited. Accreditation is a voluntary process that ensures a college, university, or degree program meets a universal standard for quality. This gives an institution and its graduates credibility with other schools and employers. Institutional accreditation is different from programmatic accreditation – which is covered later below.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) does not accredit educational institutions and/or programs. However, the US ED and the non-profit Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), oversee the accreditation process. They review the federally-recognized agencies that set accreditation standards.
Colleges and universities that offer online programs are accredited in exactly the same way as their campus-based counterparts. They answer to the same governing organizations that ensure students receive a quality education.
National accreditation agencies enforce standards for schools that don’t quite fit within a regional landscape or geographic region. They focus on accrediting trade and vocational schools, as well as career programs that offer certifications and degrees. Due to their specialized focus, nationally accredited schools aren’t as standardized as regionally accredited schools.
There are several recognized national accreditation agencies, including:
*In 2016, ACICS lost its recognition as an accrediting agency. In April 2018, the US ED temporarily reinstated its recognition while it conducts further review of ACICS.
Regional accreditation agencies oversee schools that place a focus on academics, are state-owned, or non-profit private colleges or universities. There are six regional accreditors for higher education institutions in the U.S. These agencies oversee schools within their particular cluster of states.
The six agencies are:
There are a few other ways that regionally accredited and nationally accredited schools differ:
Considered the most prestigious and widely-recognized type of accreditation, regionally-accredited schools are reviewed by their designated regional agency.
Nationally-accredited agencies review institutions of a similar type, such as career, vocational, and technical (art & design, nursing, etc.) schools.
May be more expensive than nationally-accredited schools.
May be less expensive than regionally-accredited schools.
More selective during the admissions process.
Has more relaxed admission standards.
Mostly academic, non-profit institutions (must fundraise in order to meet their budget via private donations, federal grants, and legacy giving).
Predominantly for-profit institutions (earn revenue via enrollment or selling educational products). They may also have shareholders they must answer to.
Typically, regionally-accredited schools do not accept credits from nationally-accredited schools.
Credits are easily transferred to other regionally-accredited schools.
Typically, nationally-accredited schools will accept credits from both regionally- and nationally-accredited schools.
Credits are not transferable to a regionally-accredited college.
Eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans.
Employers do accept nationally accredited degrees, but graduates are not always eligible for corporate tuition reimbursement plans.
There is a third type of accreditation that prospective students should look for when evaluating schools: programmatic accreditation—sometimes called “specialized accreditation” or “professional accreditation.”
Although national and regional accrediting agencies recognize higher educational institutions as a whole, programmatic accrediting agencies examine individual programs or departments to ensure they are providing students with a quality education in a particular area of study. Programmatic accreditation is often at the national level since these agencies cover a particular specialty and evaluate all programs nationally within that specialty. This national programmatic accreditation differs from the national institutional accreditation covered above.
Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Many programs available at Drexel also hold national programmatic accreditation, including:
If you attend an institution that is not nationally or regionally accredited, it can be a waste of time and money. Making sure your school is accredited is important for a number of reasons that can affect you both now and later, including:
Over 27.2% of students—roughly 1 in 4—transfer to schools outside of the state where they began their college journey. Some transfer while they’re still an undergraduate. Others decide to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree at a different school from where they earned their associates or bachelor’s degree.
If you’re currently attending a regionally-accredited school and planning to transfer, credits are easily transferred to other regionally-accredited schools, even if your new school is accredited by a different accrediting body than the one where you are currently enrolled. Credits are often reviewed on a course-by-course basis or by a specific academic department to determine which credits will transfer.
If you’re transferring schools, it’s possible that you may not lose any credits. However, two-thirds of students do. No matter the accreditation of your former school, it’s important to speak to a college’s transfer credit evaluator to know where you stand and how many of your credits will transfer. Students transferring schools for the first time lost an average of 13 semester credit hours — nearly 1/10th of the total amount of semester credits (120) required to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. That’s the equivalent of having to complete an additional semester in order to graduate.
As long as the school they are attending is accredited, students are eligible to apply for federal financial aid. If a school is not accredited, a student cannot receive federal financial aid. Switching from a nationally accredited to a regionally accredited school (or vice versa) has no effect on the amount of federal grants or loans a student may receive.
Institution-based financial aid (such as scholarships) are awarded at the discretion of each college or university and depends on the individual’s need or eligibility.
Making sure your institution is properly accredited is key to getting the most from your education. Here are some warning signs and actionable tips for ensuring the school you apply to has either national or regional institutional accreditation.
Here’s how you can be sure that your institution is accredited:
Now that you know more about the difference between regionally-accredited and nationally-accredited institutions, continue along the path to ignite your future. Drexel University, regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, has over 150 online degree and certificate programs with some that also hold programmatic accreditation, offers students an opportunity to learn from the best, and with the best. Discover our course offerings and let us help you achieve your goals.
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