For all current and future college students, accreditation is an important concept to understand. It refers to the support of a particular institution by an third party: a relevant authority, usually with regard to a particular field of study. Said authoritative party acknowledges, by extending accreditation, that a college offers a certain level of reputable quality within a particular field of study. This might impact a small institution directly, or a particular school within a larger university. Many major colleges and universities have widely renowned programs accredited by multiple third party organizations.
Within a particular organization, accreditation is governed by a review board, with its members consisting of a range of respected professionals (including faculty from accredited and highly regarded universities). These review boards govern all decisions regarding the recognition of new institutions, as well as the periodic renewal of accreditation for established schools.
How Accreditation is Evaluated
Every organization that offers accreditation maintains its own trusted criteria for extending it, but there are certain aspects of a given school which are more or less universally taken into consideration. The school’s mission statement and stated goals are considered, but more substantial weight is given to such important features as its admissions criteria, student support services, educational quality, and the institution’s overall reputation.
Accrediting bodies are not without their own oversight. The U.S. Federal Department of Education maintains its own standards for recognized accrediting bodies. In addition, the .edu Domain Administration relies upon implied authority from multiple sources before it will grant an institution within the United States use of the .edu internet domain. A school that lacks an online presence with a .edu domain name is specifically unrecognized by a range of accrediting authorities, and should be investigated thoroughly before being pursued as a serious avenue of academic training.
Importance of Accreditation
When applying for a job within an advanced or highly technical field, a college degree stands as testimony to a qualified professional’s level of training and ability in their stated areas of expertise. A college’s level of accreditation could be seen, after a fashion, as its institutional degree. Accreditation represents the acknowledgment of an institution’s educational quality, particularly within a specific field of expertise. Solid, repeatedly renewed accreditation provides a substantial boost to a school’s reputation, and makes a degree earned from that school much more valuable to its holder.
Of particular note to the modern student is the importance of support services to the accreditation process. By attending an accredited university or program, today’s student ensures that they will have recognized career counseling services, job placement programs, internship opportunities, and other highly sought-after student services made available to them. Were these services to come under question, the institution’s accreditation would be at risk.
The Accreditation of Online Institutions
With the growing prevalence of online collage (and other remote learning opportunities) has come renewed emphasis on the importance of accreditation. Early on in the establishment of online colleges, accreditation was sometimes offered by questionable organizations, specifically for online programs. Today, online courses (and entire degree programs) are frequently offered by well-established, highly reputable institutions, and are accredited by the same authoritative bodies that evaluate traditional programs. These organizations hold distance learning programs to the same standards as they do on-site programs, which has further advanced online learning as a reliable and trustworthy avenue to pursuing a degree.
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Education does not directly accredit academic institutions. However, it does maintain oversight of the accreditation system, and enforce certain standards within federally-recognized accrediting agencies. These agencies tend to be the most reliable and highly reputable accrediting bodies, by far, which makes their recognition of a particular program or institution highly sought after.