Advancing your education by enrolling in an online degree program can greatly impact your future – and so can the program you choose. Earning your degree can lead to improved job stability, better career opportunities and a higher potential salary. While the flexibility and convenience of online programs appeal to busy professionals, additional factors – such as accreditation – are also important to consider when deciding which program is right for you. Whether you’re seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree, it pays to study your options before you choose an online program.
The Importance of Choosing a University
You may select from hundreds of online degree programs; however, all degrees are not viewed equally by potential employers or your peers. When it’s time to compete for the job that can advance your career possibilities, you’ll want every advantage to distinguish yourself in a crowded marketplace. A degree awarded by a traditional, nonprofit, well-known and respected university will never be questioned by employers and will give you the confidence you need when pursuing a sought-after position.
Value of Accreditation
Taking classes while attending to personal and work responsibilities requires focus, commitment and a great deal of hard work. Make your investment count by choosing an online degree program from a traditional, regionally accredited institution. That way, you can be assured that your online degree program meets the same quality standards as traditional university degree programs offered on campus.
Regional Accreditation: What Does It Mean?
Regional accreditation refers to educational accreditation by one of six accrediting bodies recognized by the United States Department of Education (U.S. DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Educational institutions voluntarily apply to receive their regional accreditation from the agency covering their region. The accrediting agency then conducts a thorough evaluation, through a peer-review process, of the school’s standards, practices, faculty and curricula to determine whether they meet basic, foundational expectations and federally-required mandates and follow “good practice” methods that are common with other higher education institutions.
Students are advised to conduct their own research to verify a school’s accreditation status and its ability to provide a quality education. The institution should clearly state in its materials the agency through which it holds accreditation. Review the qualifications of the accrediting agency and be sure it is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Watch out for terms like “recognized,” “authorized,” “approved,” “chartered,” or “pursuing accreditation” that give the appearance of accreditation when none exists.
Regional Accreditation vs. National Accreditation
A school might apply to a national accrediting agency when its coursework or model of instruction is different from a traditional, nonprofit university’s degree programs. National accrediting agencies measure different standards and categories than regional accrediting agencies and typically accredit specific trade schools, such as massage therapy schools or other technical centers. Rarely will you see a traditional, nonprofit college or university with national accreditation.
Regional and national accreditation are both voluntary and involve a detailed review process; however, there are distinct differences between regional and national accreditation:
- Regional bodies conduct more comprehensive reviews.
- Regional bodies accredit institutions in one particular region of the country. However, all operate similarly and are recognized equally by the U.S. DOE.
- Regional accreditation is generally considered more reputable.
- Regionally accredited schools are primarily academically oriented and widely recognized institutions, such as state colleges and universities. The Ohio State University, Georgia Tech and University of Texas are three examples of regionally accredited schools.
- Regionally accredited schools do not typically accept credits from just nationally accredited institutions. National accreditation agencies measure different standards and categories, according to the type of school being evaluated.
- National accreditation agencies review institutions across or even outside the United States.
- Nationally accredited institutions may be for-profit.
- National accreditation generally applies to what many people consider to be vocational or technical institutions, such as art schools, dance schools, tech schools and massage therapy schools.
Accreditation and Transfer Credits
One of the best investments you can make in yourself is pursuing your education. With a respected undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited university, you can expand your career opportunities and take charge of your future. In addition, if you decide to change schools or pursue a graduate degree, you should know that the majority of regionally accredited colleges do not accept credits for transfer from nationally accredited colleges.
Consider the Advantages of Accreditation When Choosing Your Online Degree Program
The importance and advantages of regional accreditation cannot be overstated. Regional accreditation represents the highest standard available among U.S. accrediting bodies. It affirms the quality of the education you’ll receive, and that your institution of choice will be continuously monitored to ensure quality standards are maintained.
Choosing an online degree program is a decision that deserves your careful scrutiny. So, make sure your degree will be respected by potential employers, recognized by your peers and accepted by other regionally accredited institutions. Before you enroll in any online degree program, check the institution’s regional accreditation status first – so you can move forward with complete confidence.