Accreditation provides for the independent review of education programs for the purpose of determining if that education is of uniform and sound quality.
Online school accreditation is important if you want to have a public record of your learning that will be widely accepted by employers, professional associations and other colleges and universities.
Types of Online School Accreditation
When people ask if you have attended an "accredited university" in the United States, they most commonly mean a regionally accredited university.
Each of the six geographic regions of the United States has a non-governmental, regional agency that oversees and accredits degree-granting institutions headquartered in their territories.
- MSA — Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools
- NASC — Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities
- NCA — North Central Association of Colleges & Schools
- NEASC — New England Association of Schools & Colleges
- SACS — Southern Association of Colleges & Schools
- WASC — Western Association of Schools & Colleges
For example, if you earn an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree at one university that holds regional college accreditation, such as the University of Maryland, it will be recognized as a valid degree for entering a graduate program later at the University of Illinois Online or any other regionally accredited university.
The most common type of accreditation other than regional accreditation is national accreditation.
The three most common types of national accreditation agencies:
- Distance Education & Training Council (DETC)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
Colleges that offer theology training programs for the ministry may be accredited by these specialized national agencies:
- Association of Theological Schools in the US & Canada (ATS)
- Association of Advanced Rabbinical & Talmudic Schools (AARTS)
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges & Schools (TRACS)
National Accreditation — Limits
If you earn your bachelor’s degree at a DETC-accredited college, for example, the majority of regionally accredited colleges may not accept this bachelor’s degree as sufficient for entering their graduate level program of study.
Careers that are governed by state licensing boards—such as teaching, accounting and engineering—may not accept academic degrees unless these degrees are earned at regionally accredited universities.
Teacher licensing boards may require degrees earned from colleges whose education schools are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). State bar or lawyer licensing regulatory boards often require law degrees from schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). If you hope to become a licensed engineer, you may have to attend an engineering degree program that is accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET).
Three different agencies in the United States specialize in accrediting business schools. Among these agencies, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools Business International (AACSB) is considered, by academics themselves, the most prestigious type of business school accreditation. If you intend to pursue a career in teaching or research in a university environment, then an AACSB-accredited business degree may be a wise investment.
Unrecognized & Fake "Accredited" Online Colleges
As online education has increased in popularity, so too have the number of unrecognized, fake and bogus online college accreditors. Be very careful when searching for college degrees online. Hundreds of fake online colleges—also known as degree mills—advertise heavily online. These colleges are usually accredited by fake accrediting agencies with very official-sounding names.
To determine if your online college is properly accredited consult GetEducated’s free consumer protection service, the Diploma Mill Police.
Are State-Approved Online Universities Accredited?
A "state approved" distance learning college may provide sound training, but degrees earned from state approved online colleges are unaccredited degrees; and degrees earned from unaccredited universities are not widely accepted in the academic or corporate world.
A degree earned at a "state approved" college may not be acceptable for transfer to a college with regional accreditation, should you later decide to attend such an institution.
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Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees, Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College.