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Online College Accreditation – Everything You Need to Know

Student reads online guide to college accreditation before selecting an online program to attend.

Opting for a college or university for specialized education is no easy endeavor, especially when it comes to online education. There are several factors that prospective students consider when choosing a degree online. Accreditation is at the top of the list—ensuring that the online university and program you choose are legitimate and up to education standards is crucial. This article explains online college accreditation, why it holds crucial significance for online universities, and a comprehensive list of the top online colleges and universities.

If you are concerned about the reputation of the online university, college, or program you intend to undertake, this article is for you. You are not alone in these complications; millions of prospective students go through the same process and have second thoughts about an online university when thinking about employers and their future.

To ensure this credibility, the answer lies in accreditation. Accreditation is your best shot at getting to know the value of the university. It ensures that an online college or university’s quality is satisfactory and that you would qualify for financial aid or professional opportunities.

Let’s get started!

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a formal recognition of the credibility of an educational institution. A university that attains accreditation meets the required academic standards set by a third party or the accrediting body. These accrediting bodies are particular agencies with special approval from the Department of Education and outline educational criteria for post-secondary institutions. Such bodies conduct institution evaluations, assessing if they meet the required standards, and then grant accreditation to qualifying universities and colleges based on their assessments.

It is common for accreditation to consider the credibility of faculty, quality of academic programs and courses, and the integrity of an institution’s administration, along with the educational factors. On-campus, hybrid, and online schools can all attain accreditation from these agencies.

Although the United States hosts approximately 4,000 universities and colleges across its 50 states and even more online institutions, not all of them are equal. Attending a non-accredited or poorly accredited institution may seem like a favorable bargain when you’re studying. However, upon graduation, it would become evident that such a degree may bring you a huge disadvantage when searching for a job. Employers prefer degrees from accredited institutions because they are well-known for preparing students academically and professionally. In addition, this evaluative process can also affect transfer credits and financial aid eligibility for students.

Types of Accreditation

Institutional Accreditation

One type of accreditation is institutional accreditation, which means that the entire institute holds an accredited status. However, gaining institutional accreditation is not an easy endeavor. It requires a university, whether online, hybrid, or on-campus, to demonstrate the availability of extensive information resources.

Institutions also have to prove adequate student resources, including staff and faculty, and hold a track of graduating students successful in their field of study.

Program Specific Accreditation

Universities and colleges can also obtain program-specific accreditation where only a particular program gets accredited under the institution. It is possible for a college or university, may it hold online or in-person classes, to have institutional and program-specific accreditation at the same time. In addition, an institutionally accredited college or university may not hold program accreditation for a specific major. Therefore, it is crucial to research particular program accreditations when looking for an online college.

National Accreditation

A college or university program can also attain national accreditation from a professional group offering membership for practicing professionals in that particular field. Although this is not always possible, earning these accreditations or affiliations proves highly advantageous for a specific program. Some standard programs and courses for accreditation include engineering, education, law, and nursing.

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation means accreditation in a particular geographical location. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the primary accrediting body in the United States, has six regional bodies that each accredit various institutions in their locations. It is not common for online colleges or universities to hold regional accreditation. An institute can obtain it if it has a physical location in any of the six regions and an online degree-seeking program.

Specific Online College Accreditation

The Distance Education and Accrediting Commission (DEAC) is a sect of CHEA responsible for accrediting online colleges and universities. This organization ensures the same level and quality of education in online programs as their in-person counterparts. This accreditation has a rigorous process. Thus, online schools holding this accreditation usually have a high percentage of graduation and post-graduation success rates.

Only students in accredited institutions can obtain federal grants and other benefits such as GI Bill benefits and subsidized student loans. In addition to the financial benefits, accredited institutions make a student transfer between universities much smoother and quicker than a non-accredited institute. Accreditation is especially significant for online programs as it opens several possibilities for prospective students.

Online College Accreditation: Why Is It Important?

Distance learning offers a high degree of flexibility and ease. It may also cause disreputable or fraudulent institutions with inadequate educational standards to appear legitimate and credible through a polished and professional online appearance. They can easily deceive students through such approaches, and thus proper accreditation holds importance for online programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education,

“The goal of accreditation is to ensure that higher education institutions meet acceptable levels of quality.”

Below are some benefits of online college accreditation and how it helps students post-graduation.

Quality Education

Accrediting agencies enforce particular academic and professional standards that can reasonably guarantee quality education and adequate institutional support services for students. Online colleges and universities that lack proper accreditation may be unable to prepare students for success in the workforce or qualify for further academic pursuits.

Employer Perception

One of the first factors students think about when choosing an online degree program is its prospective employer perception. Employers may not consider a degree coming from an unaccredited institution or may prefer an accredited one. Since they may face trouble determining whether an applicant holds adequate education, they may not hire them.

Financial Support

One of the most common concerns for college students is financial aid, whether for an online or on-campus educational degree.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, a college or university must hold accreditation from a “nationally recognized accrediting agency” or be “approved by a recognized state approval agency” for students to qualify for financial aid. Only students enrolled in institutions holding accreditation from an organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (ED) are eligible for federal support or aid to pay for post-secondary study. Accreditation can directly interfere with a student’s eligibility to receive federal assistance.

Therefore, if you intend to apply for federal student loans or other financial support through FAFSA, an accredited college or university helps ensure federal assistance covers the massive costs.

Credit Transfer

The ability to transfer credits is a distinguishing feature between accredited and non-accredited colleges and institutions. Non-accredited institutions do not guarantee credit transferability. This can significantly hamper a student’s ability to transfer credits.

Criteria For Professional Certification or Further Specialized Education

Getting a degree from an accredited institution allows you to qualify for high-paying job prospects, no matter which field you belong to or intend to join. In some cases, accreditation may even be a job requirement.

In addition, attaining licensure and certification also requires an accredited degree. For instance, teachers in Connecticut must graduate from an accredited educator preparation program to be eligible for their teaching credentials. Similarly, aspiring nurses in Connecticut must also graduate from a state-approved nursing program to pursue a Registered Nurse license.

The Department of Education says that a critical goal of accreditation is to “establish criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation.”

Attaining an advanced education degree, such as Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate, requires primary education from an accredited institute. Many institutions necessitate regionally approved or accredited initial education to ensure its credibility and legitimacy before accepting you into their program.

The Best Accreditation For Online Colleges and Universities

National Accreditation for Online Colleges & Universities

Institutional accreditation usually comes from a regional or national agency when evaluating an online college or university. Regional accreditation is generally preferred and shows that a school meets the highest educational standards set by an agency. However, it is typical for completely online schools to seek accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) as they serve students from all across the nation. The DEAC is a national agency founded in 1926 to review earlier forms of remote learning. Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S Department of Education recognize it as an official accrediting agency: it has successfully positioned itself as a credible and reliable expert in distance learning and teaching.

The evaluation of online schools emphasizes accountability for meeting student learning outcomes based on a competency-based and practical educational model. Several reputed online trade and career schools hold national accreditation by DEAC or other approved agencies.

Accredited Programs at Online Colleges & Universities

In addition, many online colleges also seek accreditation for individual programs typically awarded by professional organizations relevant to a program field. This accreditation ensures that a program’s graduates meet industry requirements and expectations. For instance, many schools seek accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for their accounting programs or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for engineering programs.

Regional Accreditation for Online Colleges & Universities

It is customary for private and public four-year institutions to obtain accreditation from regional accrediting bodies. Regional accreditation is the gold standard, and such organizations ensure high-quality education in particular geographical locations. Several national accrediting bodies were commonly reserved for Bible colleges, trade schools, and for-profit schools. However, many educational circles consider this form of accreditation substandard to regional accreditation. The ED began allowing accrediting bodies to compete in each other’s historical regions, thereby eliminating the boundaries between regional and national accreditors.

Fake Accrediting Agencies

It is critical to keep an eye out for fake accrediting agencies, which have increased in numbers after a considerable increase in the popularity of online educational programs. Fortunately, the CHEA and ED provide publicly accessible credible, and legitimate accreditation organizations databases. These two are the primary types of recognized accrediting bodies. They should be consulted when looking for institutional and programmatic accreditation credibility.

Accrediting Agencies

It is common for online educational programs to obtain accreditation from the same agencies and organizations that grant accreditation to on-campus programs. You can quickly tell if a college, university, or program holds accreditation by searching the U.S Department of Education’s accreditation database. You can also ensure that the school you are opting for has a credible status by looking for approval from any of the following agencies:

How to Check An Online College or University’s Accreditation

It is common for fake accreditation agencies to attempt to appear credible and legitimate by fooling people. They may often use names similar to real agencies and include renowned schools on their list of members. However, you can steer clear of such fraudulent attempts by doing some research and taking help from both the Department of Education and CHEA searchable databases of recognized accreditation institutes. Suppose the college you are looking to choose holds accreditation from an agency that doesn’t appear in these databases. In that case, you should consider it before deciding.

The Top Accredited Online Colleges

The top accredited online colleges and universities in the United States offer thorough education and prepare students for all professional life. Check out the top online accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. that provide educational programs, alumni networks and career resources, and support services:

  1. Southern New Hampshire University – Location: Manchester, NH
  2. Liberty University – Location: Lynchburg, VA
  3. University of Central Florida – Location: Orlando, FL
  4. Florida International University – Location: Miami, FL
  5. University of Florida – Location: Gainesville, FL

Top Affordable Online Colleges/Universities

Top Non-Profit Online Colleges/Universities

Top Military-Friendly Online Colleges/Universities

Top Online Colleges/Universities By Degree Level

Top Online Colleges/Universities For An Associate’s Degree

Top Online Colleges/Universities For A Bachelor’s Degree

Top Online Colleges/Universities For A Master’s Degree

Top Online Colleges/Universities For A Doctorate

Highlights of Top Accredited Online Colleges and Universities

The information above provides an idea of the best accredited online colleges and universities and their different domains. Now, let us look into some accredited online schools and learn all there is to know.

1. California Coast University

California Coast University (CCU) offers an online module comprising 13 undergraduate degree programs, 16 diploma or certificate programs, and 14 graduate degree programs. These fully accredited online certificates and degree programs can be undertaken asynchronously and do not have set meeting times or group projects.

Students do not need to pay a visit to the campus or take exams on specified dates. The time of degree completion varies because this university is self-paced. Students can choose their schedule with as much flexibility as an institute can offer, as long as they complete a minimum of one course every six months.

CCU has affordable tuition rates for undergraduate and graduate degree programs and interest-free payment programs that start at only $100 a month. Students can pursue various degrees for various professions, including healthcare administration, education, business administration and management, general studies, criminal justice, etc.

The university also offers academic credit for training or work experience for students looking to earn an undergraduate degree. The average recommendation rate for this university ranks around 90%.

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2. Columbia Southern University

Columbia Southern University (CSU) offers 12 online graduate and 28 online undergraduate degrees. Some degree programs also extend across several degree levels: an Associate Degree, Bachelor of Science, Master of Science in Criminal Justice, or doctorate in Business Administration.

The university offers three schedule tracks to offer maximum flexibility to students. Their LifePace Learning option allows students to complete a course at a pace of their choice, anywhere between four and ten weeks. The term enrollment also offers self-paced study flexibility within nine weeks. It also provides a Veterans Flexible Enrollment that is only available to students already using the Veterans Administration education benefits, although quite similar to term enrollment.

The recommendation rate for this university is 79%, built upon the experiences of 174 students. The tuition expenditures amount to about $225 per credit hour for undergraduates and $300 per credit hour for graduate courses, but the cost includes textbooks. Working professionals can also use CSU’s 10% tuition discount in partnership with over 2,500 organizations.

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3. Georgia State University

Georgia State University offers distance-learning programs at the Bachelor’s, Associate’s, Master’s, Certificate, and Doctoral degree levels.

However, plenty of online offerings are at the Master’s and Associate degree levels, offering 14 Master’s degrees and 21 Associate’s degrees. The university offers seven certifications to obtain professional credentials in the online format. These may include Associate degrees in special and secondary education, Master’s degree in science education, educational research, and teaching English as a secondary language.

Programs range from entirely online to hybrid, and some even allow students the flexibility to choose between coming to campus or staying remote. This university offers various education options for students looking to become teachers or educators who intend to advance their careers.

GSU is one of the highly sought-after online schools because of its merits. This university also obtained a considerably high spot in the 2019 Best Online Colleges for Low-Income Students ratings. Working professionals with busy schedules can benefit from the flexibility in online Master’s degree programs as they are formulated to be completed in six seven-week terms. Students can also apply for federal financial aid and look at the school’s Scholarship Resource Center to learn about additional scholarships and loan opportunities.

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4. Iowa Central Community College (ICCC)

The Iowa Central Community College offers nine highly affordable online associate degree level programs in various fields such as healthcare administration, accounting, and criminal justice.

The online programs begin on six dates throughout the year, and one semester comprises two 8-week classes. Full-time students simultaneously taking two classes can complete this program in about two years.

The university offers a broad spectrum of support available through various platforms to ensure student success. Students can access tutoring services through a program called Smarthinking and academic advising from the school’s Online Enrollment Representatives throughout a chosen program. They can also find help from Iowa Central Career Services for job postings, career coaching, networking opportunities, and internships.

Students can continue taking advice from specialized counselors about continuing their education to a higher degree. The tuition cost is about $315 per credit hour and $30 per credit hour for e-book rental; students can also rent hardware and computers per their needs. This institution is accredited and thus allows students to apply for federal financial aid and some state grants, especially for Iowa residents.

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5. Norwich University

Norwich University (NU) offers nine online Bachelor’s degrees and 15 online Master’s degrees, each with various specialized concentrations.

It is the oldest private military college functional in the United States. Only selected members of the military and intelligence communities can enroll in two of its Bachelor’s degree programs:

  • B.S. in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis and
  • B.S. in National Security Studies.

Some other degree options include graduate and undergraduate degrees in Business Administration, Criminal Justice, And Computer Science and Information Systems.

According to Norwich’s specially designed class schedule, students have to take only one class at a time, with most programs completable in 18-24 months. The tuition rates depend upon the program, and active-duty military members can access discounts on undergraduate tuition rates. NU has a 71% recommendation rate and is dedicated to guiding and supporting students through their online experience by providing distance learning librarians, student service advisors, a Graduate Writing Center for extra help, and a technical support team.

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6. Park University

Park University offers 54 online undergraduate and 50 online Master’s degree programs, including a certificate in Public Accounting, two Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Master’s in Business Administration.

All courses at Park University are in 8-week terms with the added flexibility of five start dates throughout the year. Most full-time students take two courses simultaneously. Although they can access course materials, learning is not self-paced as students must meet assignment deadlines.

The annual tuition expenditure comes to about $11,572 for online undergraduate students and $5,917 for online graduate students. This university offers several support services for online learners. The support services include access to research databases, mentoring through the StepUP program, remote tutoring, and help in job search from the Career Development Center.

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7. Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online offers a wide array of online degree programs: eight Associate degrees, 99 Bachelor’s degrees, and 86 Masters degrees. It ranks amongst the top three on various lists and has a student recommendation rate of 64%, based on 371 student reviews. Students can choose a degree and pursue any career ranging from criminal justice to education to business and liberal arts.

The academic term beginning dates come up throughout the year, with all online courses accessible at a student’s own pace 24/7. This university offers specialized online student resources, such as tutoring services, an online library, a bookstore, and tech support. Students have to pay about $9,600 per year for undergraduate programs.

View More about Southern New Hampshire University

8. University of Arizona

The University of Arizona (UA) offers various remote learning degree programs for prospective students to opt for as per their requirements. Options exist at all degree levels: 53 Bachelors, 99 Masters, 6 Doctorates, and 43 certifications in wide-ranging fields such as cyber operations, public health, special education, business administration, and engineering management. The university has low tuition fees and ensures considerably high mid-career salaries amongst students, particularly in programs like nursing, environmental science, and geographic information systems.

Students can attain education affordably and flexibly with a pay-per-credit tuition model and classes starting every seven and a half weeks. Tuition rates hold no distinctions: in-state and out-of-state students pay the same rate. Students can access federal financial aid and apply for Bridge Scholarships to reduce expenditure if transferring from a community college. The university offers an intricate network of support to its students, including tutors, academic advisors, alumni mentors, and coaches.

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9. University of California-Berkeley

The University of California – Berkeley (UC Berkeley) offers highly sought-after online educational programs supplementing its on-campus offerings.

The UC Berkeley Extension offers 61 online learning certificates for students to develop skills in various fields such as web design, paralegal studies, professional writing, and accounting. Graduates can opt for online Master’s degrees in Information and Data Science, Public Health, and Information and Cybersecurity, specializing in Biostatistics and Epidemiology. Students benefit from the flexibility in the Master of Information and Data Science program, which offers three tracks, allowing them to obtain their degree between 12 and 32 months.

Students can use asynchronous and synchronous learning while benefiting from the top alumni networks and faculty researchers. UC Berkeley also offers the iGrad personal finance tool to aid graduate students pursuing work-study programs or financial aid.

View More about University of California

10. University of Virginia (UVA)

University of Virginia (UVA) offers several online programs with great return on investment rates. Its online Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree program offers 12 concentrations. And UVA has a high tuition-to-salary ratio for alumni, making it one of the highly sought-after educational programs. Some of its highly-rated graduate degree programs include data science and chemical, aerospace, and electrical engineering.

UVA’s School of Education and Human Development offers the highest number of graduate degree programs, including a doctoral degree in instruction and curriculum with five concentrations and several certifications and Master’s degrees. The course schedule follows the same timeline as the on-campus programs.

Online students must complete the exact programmatic requirements as on-campus students. Most online courses are asynchronous, with teachers recording class sessions and lectures for students to review at their convenience. Working educators have access to financial aid opportunities to help them with academics and affordability through Career Services, Transfer Student Resources, and tutoring.

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Final Thoughts – Get Started With An Accredited Online Educational Degree!

Remote learning has undoubtedly brought innumerable benefits to students all across the globe. However, the ever-increasing surge in remote learning has led to a subsequent rise in fraudulent institutions with substandard educational standards. Attaining such a degree would waste your time and resources and prove highly detrimental to your future career. That is where accreditation comes into action and clears things up for everyone. If you are looking for an accredited online educational program, head over to!

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Question: How are online programs accredited?
Answer: Online programs go through the same thorough assessments and examinations as their on-campus counterparts. Reviewers ensure quality education for distant learners by evaluating the faculty qualifications, support services, and course delivery models.

Question: Which accreditation is the best for an online college or university program?
Answer: The most suitable online program accreditation typically depends on the individual program. Programmatic accreditation depends upon the degree field. Regional accreditations are usually considered the best institutional-level online colleges/universities accreditation.

Question: Are some online colleges and universities not accredited?
Answer: Yes, some online colleges and universities are not accredited because they do not meet the academic requirements. Such an institute cannot provide the required professional and theoretical training to find a job after graduation.

Question: Are accredited online degrees credible?
Answer: Yes, all accredited online degrees are credible as they have been thoroughly evaluated and screened by accrediting organizations. In contrast, unaccredited colleges and universities’ degrees are not credible; may they be taught online or in person.