Why should you care about whether your studies are accredited? To be candid, accreditation does not always guarantee the quality or value of what you are studying. Some accredited institutions are of poor quality and some unaccredited educational institutions are of high quality. So accreditation is not the first and most important question to ask yourself about a course of study you are contemplating. On the other hand, in most cases, accreditation does matter for a number of very good reasons. Here are just a few:
False and misleading claims about the value of educational credentials, job qualification, and after-graduation employability are rampant.
Degree and diploma mills are eager to make unsubstantiated promises, take your money, and leave you with little or no real world value. Sadly, due to governmental reluctance to infringe on the free exercise of religion, religious and ministerial degree and diploma mills are some of the worst and most frequent abusers. Accreditation affords consumer protection against fraud and abuse.
Accreditation does not guarantee, but helps, toward credit transfer and advanced degree study.
Educational leaders rely heavily on recognized accreditation as a basis for awarding transfer credit and admission to advanced degree studies. Accreditation helps to ensure that courses, credit hours, academic rigor, faculty qualifications, and evidence of student learning are consistent with generally accepted meanings and norms. Although there is increasing pressure for educators not to rely exclusively on accreditation in reaching credit transfer and admissions decisions, there is little reason to believe that current practices will soon change. In reality, when a registrar reviews a student transcript from an accredited institution, the burden of proof is on him as to why credit will not be awarded for the previous work. When a registrar reviews a student transcript from an unaccredited institution, the burden of proof is on the student as to why credit should be awarded.
Accreditation means that institutions have undergone extensive reviews to ensure that basic integrity, stability, and quality criteria have been met and can reasonably be expected to continue.
Typically, accrediting processes involve extensive and widely participatory internal audits (called self-studies) resulting in documentation that an institution meets or exceeds published standards relative to institutional purpose, governance, administrative and financial stability, soundness of educational programs and instruction, learning and information resources, student development and services, facilities (unless they operate exclusively by distance education), and evidence of student learning. Teams of evaluators, comprised of trained professionals with extensive experience in peer educational institutions or public professions, rigorously review and verify institutional claims. Accreditation decisions are made by an independent commission that includes representation from the general public as well as peer institutions.
In the US, eligibility for such student financial aid programs as Pell Grants and Stafford Loans comes through accreditation by a recognized “gatekeeper” accrediting agency.
The same holds true for many US State grant and loan programs. Accrediting agencies acquire this “gatekeeper” status by documenting compliance with federal recognition regulations, undergoing careful USDE staff reviews and observation and a further review by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI).
Accreditation ensures that an institution is not just saying, “Take Our Word for It” when it comes to quality and integrity.
Institutions accredited by recognized agencies have subjected themselves to external standards and reviews. And they don’t just do this once for all time. They have to periodically (at least every 10 years) undergo a complete internal documentation and external review. They take their quality and integrity seriously and invest heavily in maintaining and substantiating them.
Accreditation involves a commitment to ongoing improvement.
Accreditation is not so much a status to be attained as a process in which to continuously engage. Since its earliest beginnings nearly a century ago, accreditation’s central emphases have shifted from content (what subjects are taught) to resources (faculty, funding, libraries, facilities), to processes (policies, procedures, records) to outcomes, particularly now toward evidence of student learning. Accreditation asks educators to establish goals for student learning, identify methods to ascertain the extent of student learning, collect and review assessment results, and then set goals and allocate resources for improvement.
Return on Investment
Need funds for college? Want to avoid getting a worthless credential, having your school take the money and run, running into an academic or career dead end? Want to increase your chances of transferring to another institution, getting into graduate school, getting employed in your field? Then … accreditation matters!
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