Nationally, there’s been explosive growth in the availability and diversity of online degree programs, as evidenced by the 6.1 million people who took online classes in 2010 alone.
Like in-the-classroom programs, however, the colleges and universities offering online degrees are not all created equal.
Unless you want to waste money, obtain a meaningless degree, possibly prevent transfer credit, find yourself ineligible for student financial aid programs, hinder job opportunities or hamper career advancement, college accreditation matters.
In fact, it matters very much.
Here’s a primer on why it matters, including information on college accreditation standards, types of accreditation and accreditation agencies.
Q. What is accreditation?
A. Accreditation is an external quality review process in which schools and their degree programs are compared to a recognized standard of quality. Accreditation helps ensure that the school delivers quality education and is committed to continuously improving educational offerings and student resources. The accreditation process typically involves self-study, peer review, site visits from regulatory bodies, action or judgment, and monitoring and oversight.
Q. What is a diploma mill?
Federal legislation known as The Higher Education Opportunity Act defines a diploma mill as an entity that offers degrees, diplomas and certificates for a fee while requiring little or no education or coursework.
Q. Why does college accreditation matter?
A. It matters because the college accreditation process helps ensure quality and continuous improvement of courses, programs and degrees. According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation also:
- Assists students in identifying acceptable institutions
- Protects consumers against false, misleading or fraudulent entities known as “diploma mills”
- Helps in determining the acceptance of transfer credits
- Is one of the considerations in deciding eligibility for federal assistance
- Identifies institutions and programs that are acceptable for the investment of public and private funds
Q. Who grants accreditation?
A. Accreditation is granted by private, non-profit accreditors that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or both. Download the list of recognized accrediting organizations.
Q. Are there different types of accreditation? If so, what are they?
A. There are regional, national and specialized accreditations. Regional and national accrediting organizations review entire institutions while specialized organizations review programs and/or single-purpose institutions. Regional accreditation is the most recognized and accepted type of accreditation. Statewide colleges and large universities are typically accredited regionally, while smaller, private colleges may be accredited nationally.
Q. What are the college accreditation standards?
A. Standards vary by accrediting institution. Franklin University’s accreditation status, for example, is provided by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a regional accreditor. HLC’s criteria for accreditation includes: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service.
Want to learn more about college accreditation?
- The Truth About Online Degrees: 5 Common Myths Busted
- The Higher Learning Commission criteria for accreditation
- U.S. Department of Education: diploma mills and accreditation
- Better Business Bureau diploma mill red flags