When selecting a college or university and before committing any money to a postsecondary educational institution, it is important to determine whether or not the institution is “accredited.” This is even more important when considering a non-traditional form of instruction—such as distance learning. With an accredited institution, a student has some assurance of receiving a quality education and gaining recognition by other colleges and by employers of the course credits and degrees earned. Accreditation is an affirmation that a college provides a quality of education that the general public has the right to expect and that the educational community recognizes.
If a college or university is not accredited, its students will probably not be able to participate in either Federal or State of Maryland financial assistance programs.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a voluntary process of self-regulation and peer review adopted by the educational community. Institutions of higher education have voluntarily entered into associations to evaluate each other in accord with an institution’s stated goals. Non-accredited institutions must be able to demonstrate that they possess certain “characteristics of quality” before they are allowed to become members of the association of accredited institutions.
Types of accreditation
Institutional accreditation: Most accreditation is institutional, meaning an entire college is accredited. This gives credibility to the college as a whole. This type of accreditation can be given by either a “regional accreditation agency” or a “national accreditation agency.” The United States is divided into 6 regions—each with a regional accrediting body. The one for Maryland is the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. There are several national accrediting bodies for specialized types of colleges, such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges.
Specialized and programmatic accreditation: Certain specialized professional programs are accredited independently of their parent institution. There are specialized accrediting bodies for these programs—such as the International Association for Management Education and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
The only legitimate accrediting organizations are those recognized by the United States Department of Education.
Questions about accreditation?
If you are uncertain about the accreditation status of a college or university, you should ask the institution for the address and phone number of their accrediting body.
For more information on accreditation, visit the website of the U.S. Department of Education.