Accreditation is a voluntary process any college or university can go through to prove that the education they provide is rigorous enough to offer a degree. There are six regional accreditation agencies that are responsible for accrediting schools in their region. These regional agencies tend to be more established and respected than national agencies.
A school can be accredited through a national accreditation agency as well, or a school can be accredited from both. It is not enough for a school to be accredited by just anyone. It actually does make a difference whether a school is accredited nationally or regionally.
National vs. Regional: What's the Difference?
Those schools that are regionally accredited are typically non-profit or public institutions that are more academic oriented in nature.
Those schools that are nationally accredited are often for-profit or sometimes state-owned and often offer more vocational or technical-oriented programs.
Some specific programs are also governed through national accreditation institutions such as nursing. This is often why some schools have both regional and national accreditation.
Perhaps the biggest reason why this matters is that credits from nationally accredited schools are often not accepted at regionally accredited schools. Many employers or government programs also may not recognize degrees from nationally accredited schools.
Credits from regionally accredited schools are typically accepted anywhere, in both regionally or nationally accredited institutions.
Some for-profit schools have been accused of aggressive marketing tactics to convince veterans to sign up for their programs. These programs are often over-priced, and with their national accreditation may not be a sufficient degree for the student to actually find work in their field after graduation.
Not all online schools are for-profit. If you do want to participate in distance learning, look for programs that are regionally accredited and share the success rates of their graduates. It also won't hurt to ask potential employers if they have ever heard of the institution or if they have hired or would hire someone who had graduated from the school.
It is usually not obvious from the name of a school where it has been accredited. This requires you to investigate or ask a representative about the schools' accreditation. You can also go to the database of accredited post secondary institutions to look up any school to see what accreditation it has, or you can view a school's accreditation on its College Factual profile.
Regional Accreditation Agencies
Here is a list of the six regional accreditation bodies in the United States. These are the names you want to see on any school's accreditation page.
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands).
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges - (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT).
- Higher Learning Commission, formerly part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (AR, AZ, CO, IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MS, ND, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, WI, WV, WY.)
- Northwest Accreditation Commission for primary and secondary schools and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) (AK, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA).
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA.)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges - (CA, HI, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, and Northern Marianas Islands)