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Regional vs. National Accreditation for Online Colleges

Regional vs National Accreditation for Online Universities & Colleges

Accreditation is one of the most significant factors in helping you evaluate an online or on-campus university, college, or degree program. Contrary to popular belief, accreditation is not of one kind but can be divided primarily into regional vs national accreditation. Regional and national accreditation provide different benefits.

Looking for an online university or program requires considerable effort and research. Let’s look at the primary differences between regional and national certification, their accrediting bodies, and the difference between the two.

What Is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a formal process that checks the credibility of an institute or program. Universities and colleges intentionally undergo thorough evaluations of this process to ensure that they meet the set educational standards. An independent and government-approved agency undertakes the accreditation process to determine its academic standing and quality. It evaluates a college, university, or degree program, whether online or on-campus. The accreditation process is quite lengthy and includes the following steps:

Peer Review

A peer review board inspects the application paperwork that an educational institution submits regarding its achievements and operations.

On-site Evaluation

Peer review board members visit the institution’s physical campus (if any) to conduct a comprehensive on-site evaluation.

Accreditation Decision Making

The board members consult with each other and evaluate their collected information to decide whether an institute meets accreditation standards or not.

Recurring Review

The evaluation process does not stop after an institute gains accreditation. A review board continuously monitors the college or university. This ensures that accredited institutions maintain the educational standards depicted during the accreditation screening process.

What Are the Benefits of Accreditation?

Accreditation holds numerous benefits for institutions, students, and employers alike. Some of the common advantages of certification include the following:

High Educational Quality

One of the primary benefits of accreditation is that it allows a prospective student or applicant to ensure the quality of their institute and program. An institute only gains certification if it meets the set educational requirements. Thus, you can feel confident that an accredited college or university would provide you with a quality education with practical professional skills.

Standardization of Education

Accreditation plays a paramount role in the standardization of education, which significantly benefits students. A standardized instruction, including course requirements, ensures that a college meets the educational needs of a particular industry or research domain. This phenomenon can prove valuable to employers looking to hire professionals and make employment easier for graduates. All of this can, in turn, allow industries to flourish.

Streamlined Credit Transfers and Admissions

Accredited institutions have a seamless credit transfer process between institutions and student admissions. Since accreditation standardizes university courses, students can conveniently transfer credits from one accredited institute to another. In addition, students holding a previous degree from an accredited institution can quickly get admission to a graduate school or other specialized institutions after graduation.

Elevated Student Credibility

Students can earn high ranks of credibility after attending an accredited college or university: the positive reputation of accredited schools reflects in a graduate’s standing. Generally, employers prefer students from accredited institutions, primarily because they have attained a quality education that meets the industry requirements.

Financial Aid Eligibility

Studying in an accredited institution allows students to obtain financial aid or other forms of governmental supplements. An accredited institution is eligible for funding from government foundations and entities, thereby allowing it to open up several scholarship and grant opportunities for students. It makes attending college much more affordable, thus paving the way to education for many students unable to afford the tuition.

Why Should I Attend an Accredited Institution?

Obtaining a degree from an unaccredited institution may seem more affordable at first. Still, the situation is bound to change once you graduate. It is common for employers to turn down applicants with degrees from unaccredited institutions. This is simply because the level of academic rigor is unknown. Many fall short of the educational requirements set by government agencies. Therefore, a common perception is that a student studying from an unrated educational institution will likely possess substandard knowledge and practical expertise. This lack of proper training makes them undesirable for many job positions.

In addition, several certificates and licensure requirements also necessitate a degree from an accredited institution. Unaccredited degree holders are not eligible for licensure and thus practice. Therefore, studying at an unaccredited institution is a waste of money, time, and resources.

What Is Regional Accreditation?

Public universities and non-profit educational institutions typically opt for regional accreditation. These institutions usually have a more comprehensive and rigorous academic quality as the standards for regional certification tend to be higher than national accreditation. Regionally accredited institutions also offer more opportunities for transfer to students looking to migrate to another regionally accredited school. Students with regionally accredited degrees are also eligible for graduate school admission.
Regional accreditation is not only the most prestigious accreditation form but also the most widely recognized, reviewed by a regional agency with the consensus of the Department of Education. The seven most prestigious regionally-accrediting agencies include the following:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)

Credits from regionally-accredited schools are eligible for acceptance at both nationally- and regionally-accredited schools. All regionally-accredited institutions are not necessarily non-profit with high admission standards but are usually both.

However, obtaining regional accreditation is not easy. According to most experts, the standards of these agencies tend to be more challenging than those of national accrediting agencies. Finding information about these particular standards is quite tricky.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-profit group, recognizes seven regional accrediting bodies in the United States and its territories. Each regional accreditor holds a prestigious history of accrediting schools offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in six geographical locations.

What are the Seven Best Regionally Accrediting Agencies?

Because these agencies only serve schools in specific regions, you will find many accrediting agencies across the US. Below we provide an overview of the best agencies.

1. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges was formerly a part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and now accredits two-year colleges offering associate’s degrees in the Western regions, including the following:

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • American Samoa
  • The Republic of Palau
  • Guam
  • The Federated States of Micronesia
  • The Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands

The commission is known to prompt educational institutions to meet standards most suitable for students’ success and support by encouraging continuous growth and academic excellence. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognizes ACCJC.

2. Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

The Higher Learning Commission was formed in 1895 and is one of the most prestigious and oldest regional accrediting agencies for postsecondary education. Formerly a part of the North Central Association, this association evaluates two-year and four-year degree-granting higher education institutions. It covers those offering online and on-campus programs in 19 states in the North Central region of the United States, ranging from Arizona to Wisconsin, including the following:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

HLC emphasizes the significance of education as a public service, student learning, and a specialized culture of continuous enhancement to allow institutions to meet and maintain the set educational standards. This institution has the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognition.

3. Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education offers accreditation to two-year and four-year colleges and graduate schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States and several other particular locations, including the following:

  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland
  • Washington
  • Puerto Rico
  • The US Virgin Islands

This association emphasizes the maintenance of educational standards by providing continuous benchmarks to evaluate an institution’s effectiveness and credibility. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognizes MSCHE.

4. New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)

The New England Commission of Higher Education was founded over 130 years ago as a wing of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. It grants regional accreditation to two-year and four-year degree-granting colleges and graduate schools in six states within New England and 11 internationally. The areas that come under this association’s jurisdiction include the following:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Some additional international locations

This regional accrediting body acts as a bridging force to ensure educational quality. It encourages improvement in higher education by ensuring that institutions fall within nine rigorous standards. The US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize NECHE.

5. Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is one of the most prestigious accrediting organizations in the US. It reviews two-year and four-year colleges and postsecondary schools in several locations, including the following:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Some international locations, including British Columbia and Canada

The NWCCU offers specialized assistance to distinguished schools to suggest improvement-inducing steps for the educational quality in the Northwest. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognize this commission.

6. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Recognized by the US Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accredits two-year and four-year colleges and postsecondary institutions in 11 southern states, including the following:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

The SACSCOC’s scope includes some international locations, including schools in Latin America. Accountability, transparency, integrity, and persistent quality improvement are amongst the core principles of this commission.

7. WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

The WASC Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities is responsible for the accreditation of several two-year and four-year colleges and higher education institutions in:

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Guam
  • The Pacific Region

Some international schools also come under the scope of WSCUC. The institute verifies higher education institutions and holds them to high technical standards through accreditation. The US Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation recognize WSCUC.

In the past, colleges in these regions could only obtain accreditation from their local accrediting agency, but authorities revised that policy in 2019. Now, any college or university can approach a regional accreditor of their choice across the country for a review. However, no colleges or universities have done that as of 2022. Nevertheless, experts believe that this new policy is better suited for a networked reality. This is because regional bodies can accredit traditional colleges offering some online programs. A student in Florida can attend an NWCCU- accredited institution without leaving the state.

List of the Best Regionally Accredited Online Colleges and Universities

American Intercontinental University Online

Tuition Cost: $11,646

American Intercontinental University is a renowned regionally accredited college with six campuses for in-person classes, both in the US and abroad. It also has a virtual division, AIU Online, which offers accredited bachelor’s, master’s, and associate’s degree programs.

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AT Still University of Health Sciences

Tuition Cost: $36,336

AT Still University of Health Sciences offers a well-built online school division for practical healthcare disciplines for college graduates. Students can study on a quarter system, allowing them to earn a master’s degree in one and a half years.

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Baker College

Tuition Cost: $425 per credit hour

Baker College is a career-focused, regionally-accredited college with a Blackboard system online for 24-hours-a-day access. The system allows students to discuss content material, listen to lectures, and complete assignments at their ease. Still, the school sets specific deadlines to submit their work.

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Bellevue University

Tuition Cost: $430 per credit hour

Bellevue University is a regionally accredited university that offers vocation-focused and liberal arts programs throughout the calendar year, allowing students online access 24/7. Students can discuss lessons, take classes, complete their research and coursework, and thus earn a complete degree at their ease but within a prescribed timeframe.

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Benedictine University

Tuition Cost: $660 per credit hour

Benedict University was initially founded in 1887 as Chicago’s St. Procopius College but is now an academically diverse institute located in Lisle, Illinois. Their online branch offers a wide array of graduate courses for professionals determined to advance their careers. Because of this, the admission requirements and the tuition cost are relatively high.

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Boston University

Tuition Cost: $955 per credit hour

Boston University is an accredited institute that allows students to complete their coursework at whatever speed they prefer. Dedicated students can take two courses per semester.

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Bryant & Stratton College

Tuition Cost: $15,514

Bryant & Stratton College is a workplace-focused institute with more than 150 years of teaching experience. It now offers an online education program. Students can easily use understandable software such as TopClass to navigate the 7.5-week classes conducted virtually.

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California University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Cost: $11,108 for residents and $15,726 for out-of-state students

The California University of Pennsylvania is a part of Pennsylvania’s public higher-education system. It was launched in 2004 by its Global Online campus. The institute offers many online certifications, master’s degree programs, and two undergraduate programs.

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The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Tuition Cost: $1,253 per credit hour

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers courses to college graduates only and provides a comprehensive curriculum for generalists. It also allows students to focus on a concentration in psychology.

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Capella University

Tuition Cost: $9,840 total average, or $410 per credit hour

Capella University is a regionally-accredited university with over 100-online degree programs and 20,000 students. Students can transfer their previous credits from certification programs and college courses.

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Eastern Kentucky University

Tuition Cost: $611 per credit hour

Eastern Kentucky University offers online certificate and degree programs in almost two dozen fields of study, including homeland security. The US News and World Report named it one of the best institutions for an online bachelor’s degree program in the US in 2018.

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Cambridge College

Tuition Cost: $55,480, or $1,387 per course

Cambridge College blends virtual learning with educational resources to support its objective of lending a helping hand to working adults. The institute offers courses in both online and on-campus formats. It has branch campuses in Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, and California.

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Charter Oak State College

Tuition Cost: $7,656 in state and $10,056 for out of state students

Charter Oak State College is one of the three highly sought-after non-traditional colleges that offer flexible degree attainment options. Students can transfer credits from regionally accredited schools, take online courses, prove life experience, and take exams to earn personally-tailored degrees.

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Fielding Graduate University

Tuition Cost: $20,257

Fielding Graduate University offers attractive opportunities to adults mid-career for master’s and doctorate course programs in the schools of Educational Leadership and Change, Human and Organization Development, and Psychology.

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Franklin University

Tuition Cost: $670 per credit hour

Franklin University offers a massive catalog of undergraduate majors full of practical disciplines such as computers and business and a master’s business track. The institute offers classes from 15 weeks in duration, taken down to a short three weeks.

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Colorado Technical University

Tuition Cost: $12,760

Colorado Technical University is a for-profit and private college that opened in 1965 to provide career-oriented education. It encourages students to take live lectures featuring online student discussion. However, students can also view the class sessions later.

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What Is National Accreditation?

National accreditation is one of the two primary types of accreditation prevalent in vocational schools, online colleges, career programs, trade schools, industry-specific certification providers, religious institutions, and for-profit educational institutions. Since these school types are typically not standardized as four-year universities, it is common for accreditation agencies to review them once every few years.

A nationally-accredited school is the most suitable choice for individuals determined to attain an education based on developing career skills with less rigorous and demanding coursework. Nationally-accredited institutions are also more attractive to students because of their comparatively lower tuition rates and fewer admission requirements and competition. Fields requiring particular licensures, like healthcare and nursing, usually undertake national accreditation.

Four of the most prestigious national accrediting bodies in the United States include the following:

  1. Council on Occupational Education
  2. Association for Biblical Higher Education
  3. Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  4. Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges

It is crucial to note that regional accreditation standards are comparatively higher than nationally accredited ones. Nationally accredited programs award credits recognizable at other nationally accredited schools but not at regionally accredited institutions. This does not mean that nationally accredited institutions offer substandard education. These colleges and universities simply emphasize specialized interests. CHEA and the US Department of Education (USDE) recognize several agencies that accredit specific institutions.

The three primary categories for national accreditation include the following:

Career-focused and Trade Schools

Technical and vocational schools in this domain are typically responsible for training students in particular skills. They require very few, if any at all, general education or liberal arts courses. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges is one agency that evaluates career institutions.

Faith-based Institutions

It is common for schools with religious affiliations to attain regional accreditation. However, institutions that look at academics from a religious perspective, including those that train clergy members, usually seek accreditation from national agencies. This includes the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools or the Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies.

Fully or Partially Online Colleges

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission typically accredits colleges and universities offering more than half their course programs through distance learning. Such institutes are generally private educational institutions that may be for-profit or non-profit. The commission evaluates the institution with the same academic criteria as regional accreditors.

Several online colleges and universities seek national accreditation through DEAC, including for-profit institutions. However, primarily online universities or colleges may seek regional accreditation rather than national. In such cases, the schools are formerly campus-based institutions that opted for an online model but did not let go of their association with regional accreditation. In contrast, some colleges and universities that started as virtual teaching institutions may transition from national to regional certification. One such example is Thomas Edison University.

Top Nationally-Accredited Online Colleges and Universities

University of the People

Tuition Cost: $1,200

The University of the People in Pasadena, CA, is a renowned non-profit private distance education university that offers about 79,596 completely online courses with a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1.

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William Howard Taft University – The Taft University System

Tuition Cost: $3,740

William Howard Taft University is a for-profit, private, and accredited university in Denver, CO. This school offers entirely online degree programs in Education, Government, Business, Law, and Taxation.

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University of Arkansas System – eVersity

Tuition Cost: $4,200

As a branch of the University of Arkansas System in Little Rock, eVersity offers an accredited and completely online college degree with minimal tuition, free application, and free-of-cost coursebook provision.

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Aspen University

Tuition Cost: $5,110

Accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), Aspen University offers top-notch, completely online degrees. With affordable tuition plans and flexible schedules, they meet students’ needs effectively.

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Columbia Southern University

Tuition Cost: $5,775

CSU has been offering meticulously designed degree programs for the past 25 years taught by expert professionals within their respective fields. It is located in Orange Beach, AL.

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City Vision University

Tuition Cost: $6,000

City Vision University offers the most affordable Christian degree programs taught entirely online in counseling or non-profit management. It is located in Kansas City, MO.

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Huntington University of Health Sciences

Tuition Cost: $6,610

Huntington University of Health Sciences offers an integrative approach to nutrition and health sciences with easy enrollment in flexible online courses. It is located in Knoxville, TN.

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University Of Arkansas Grantham

Tuition Cost: $8,280

Based in Little Rock, AR, the University of Arkansas Grantham is an online public university in the University of Arkansas System. Its prime focus is on non-traditional adult learners. The university was initially founded in 1951 as Grantham Radio Licensing Schools. It later came to be known as Grantham University.

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Catholic Distance University

Tuition Cost: $8,405

Catholic Distance University is an online, private Roman Catholic university headquartered in Charles Town, WV. The institute offers certificate, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs.

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University of Management and Technology

Tuition Cost: $9,450

The University of Management and Technology is a for-profit, private university based in Arlington, VA, founded in 1998. It offers accredited graduate and undergraduate degrees, including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, as well as certification programs.

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Sessions College for Professional Design

Tuition Cost: $10,740

Sessions College for Professional Design is an online, for-profit, and private college in Tempe, AZ, that offers associate, graduate, and undergraduate degree programs and vocational certificates.

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California Intercontinental University

Tuition Cost: $10,805

California Intercontinental University is an online, for-profit institution established in 1996. It is headquartered in Irvine, CA, and offers entirely online associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

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American College of Healthcare Sciences

Tuition Cost: $11,640

The American College of Healthcare Sciences is a renowned and accredited institution located in Portland, OR that offers specialized online, holistic health distance education.

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Westcliff University

Tuition Cost: $13,560

Westcliff University is an online, for-profit, private university in Irvine, CA, founded in 1993. The institute offers entirely online certificate programs and education courses, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

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American Business and Technology University

Tuition Cost: $21,450

Accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), the American Business and Technology University is a for-profit, private, and online institution. Headquartered in St. Joseph, MO, it was initially established in 2001 as the American College of Technology by Sam Atieh.

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Laurus College

Tuition Cost: $36,100

The Accrediting Council regionally accredits Laurus College for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). It offers entirely online associate’s and bachelor’s degrees with a highly flexible schedule. It is located in Santa Maria, CA.

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Regional vs National Accreditation: Similarities And Differences

The contrasts between regional and national accreditation are not too vast-ranging and include a few key elements. Although accreditation is not a guaranteed stamp of quality, it does ensure that schools hold a credible standing. It assures that they continue to meet the educational standards and a few other requirements, such as institutional stability. In contrast, students should not trust unaccredited institutions. They can close down right before your degree completion date or fail to transfer a number of your credits to another university. Furthermore, you will walk away with a diploma that many employers consider inferior.

Both of these accreditation types hold some benefits that one cannot overlook, the most significant of which is access to federal student aid programs. Despite the pluses of accreditation, regional and national accreditation are not equivalent and may affect your future career and academic path differently. Below we cover some of the differences that might affect you.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is the one aspect regional and national accreditation have in common. Federal financial aid requires students to study in an accredited institution. Both nationally- and regionally-accredited institutions qualify you for eligibility. State and private aid resources also require accreditation, but they may decide whether it needs to be regional or national.

Students can also consult the financial aid office of their institution to find out the kinds of aid it accepts. Some accredited colleges and universities choose not to partake in federal student aid.

Transferring Credits

Credit transfer is an area that diverges the fields of national and regional accreditation. Curriculum quality and faculty training standards tend to be more stringent with regional accreditation than the national accreditation standards. Therefore, many regionally accredited institutions do not accept credits from nationally accredited schools. However, that does not happen in all cases, as each college or university holds the authority to determine transfer eligibility individually.

In addition to the ability of credit transfer in the middle of an educational program, accreditation also affects a student’s eligibility to attain a specialized degree later. For example, a regionally-accredited institution may not accept your postgraduate application if you earned a nationally-accredited undergraduate degree.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say that opting for a regionally-accredited college or university offers the best chance for a student to be able to transfer credits to another school.

Future Employment

Future employment is another diverging feature for regional and national accreditation. When getting hired, the type of accreditation may affect your image to an employer. However, for most employers, any kind of accreditation holds more value than a specific kind of accreditation. They may require employees to have a degree from accredited schools that may not necessarily be regionally accredited.

Employers have broad discretion in choosing the academic qualifications they want. Generally, employers prefer regional accreditation over nationally accredited degrees. In addition, some programmatic accreditors only certify programs within regionally-accredited colleges or universities. For instance, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education requires colleges and universities to hold a regional accreditation to be eligible for programmatic accreditation. Pharmacy job positions usually require applicants to have an ACPE-accredited degree. Thus prospective pharmacists should opt for a regionally accredited pharmacy school.

Now you Know: Regional vs National Accreditation in Higher Education!

The choice between a regionally or nationally accredited college or university boils down to the industry you belong to and the future career goals you have in mind. Suppose you have an idea of what you wish to pursue as a career. In that case, it is crucial to research the specifics of your field of interest to determine which accreditation works best for it. You can do so by emailing professionals and experts in your area of interest, reading job postings on reputable sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, examining reports by accrediting agencies, or going through comprehensive blogs on well-known sites such as GetEducated.com.

You should remember that a regionally accredited college or university will likely provide you with better prospects and more flexibility. If you need more information in this domain, head over to GetEducated.com to make an informed decision!

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Do employers accept nationally accredited degrees?

Vocational programs, career and technical degrees, and religious, educational institutions usually seek accreditation at the national level. Therefore, it is likely for employers in these specialized fields to accept nationally accredited degrees, provided they meet their specifications and demands.

Can I get work with an unaccredited degree?

Employers in all fields prefer degrees from accredited universities to ensure quality education. Therefore, landing a job with an unaccredited degree may prove challenging.

What happens if a college loses its accreditation?

If a college or university’s accreditation lapses, due to whichever reason, it indicates that the institute no longer meets the accreditation standards. It proves fatal for an institution’s reputation and may lead to a drop in enrollment or, in some instances, closure of the school.