Both a process and a status, accreditation is a means of assessing the overall quality of institutions. Peers in a given field, such as higher education, determine the standards by which these institutions are assessed. The benefit of accreditation for students is the assurance that any college of university bearing the accreditation of a recognized peer authority meets a certain minimum level of quality standards.
For over 100 years, accreditation has played a role in U.S. institutions, including higher education where, today, it operates in a regulatory capacity. Accrediting bodies are generally of two varieties: regional and national.
Regional accreditation was formed at a time when the United States had yet to develop a centralized system of education. As a result, various regional associations began forming in order to serve those roles. As the country’s population grew, so too did the size, reach and influence of these organizations. Today, regional individual accrediting bodies may cover several states and U.S. territories.
Most organizations offering regional accreditation fit one of three types:
Newer in inception than regional accreditation, national accreditation imposes a sense of import by virtue of its name alone, with a body nationally assessed perhaps sounding more respectable than one that’s “only” regionally assessed. However, the real difference between the two is in the type of institutions they assess, not the value of their assessment. That is to say, national accrediting bodies accredit for-profit institutions. If not profit-oriented, then a nationally-accredited institution is otherwise likely a religious school with its own technical or vocational program. Nationally-accredited colleges and universities proffer either degrees or certificates and, given their tendency toward a non-academic and specialized focus, set less uniform standards.
The Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation
For starters, regional accrediting bodies tend to impose stricter standards of quality on qualifying institutions. That means they tend to demand more of the schools they accredit, including that the schools demand more of their students. National accreditations could be said to be comparatively “looser” than regional accreditation, and, knowing that, recruiters and employers may value it less favorably than its regionally-accredited counterpart.
How This Affects You
If you’re seeking an online bachelor degree program to join, one of the questions to ask yourself is whether the field you’re pursuing requires an academic degree or a vocational or technical certificate to qualify for entry. If the jobs you’ll be pursuing after graduation require an academic degree, then explore regionally-accredited institutions; if you’ll serve those job prospects better with a technical or vocational certificate, then examine nationally-accredited institutions.
In the case of pursuing a bachelor’s degree online, the choice seems obvious: search schools with regional accreditation. However, this would be a useful time to make sure that, for the career you have in mind, a technical or vocational certificate mightn’t serve you better. Once you know for sure, find those schools that are the right and best fit for you, and apply with gusto.
Other Key Considerations
If you’ve already earned some college credits that you’d like to transfer to the new school you plan to attend, find out whether your existing credits came from a school with regional or national accreditation. Then, apply to schools of that same type, as each type of accreditation qualifies credits for transfer to other schools of that same accreditation type.