Why is Accreditation Important for Choosing an Accelerated Degree Program?

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Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • These pro­grams, avail­able at all col­le­giate lev­els, help stu­dents com­plete their degrees faster through degree com­ple­tion or fast-track classes.
  • Accred­it­ed pro­grams ensure edu­ca­tion­al qual­i­ty, increase cred­it trans­fer­abil­i­ty, and improve employ­a­bil­i­ty.
  • Types of accred­i­ta­tion include region­al, nation­al, insti­tu­tion­al, and pro­gram­mat­ic.
  • They offer qual­i­ty assur­ance, bet­ter finan­cial aid eli­gi­bil­i­ty, cred­it trans­fer­abil­i­ty, and improved job prospects.
  • Non-accred­it­ed pro­grams can lead to lim­it­ed job oppor­tu­ni­ties, cred­it trans­fer issues, and wast­ed time and mon­ey. Ver­i­fy­ing accred­i­ta­tion is cru­cial before enroll­ment.

Accel­er­at­ed degree pro­grams come in all shapes and sizes. In some cas­es, they’re degree com­ple­tion pro­grams, allow­ing you to fin­ish a degree you might’ve start­ed and nev­er fin­ished. In oth­er cas­es, they offer fast-track class­es, cut­ting the total time need­ed to com­plete the degree by a semes­ter, two semes­ters or more.

These pro­grams are avail­able at all lev­els of col­le­giate work. How­ev­er, they tend to be most pop­u­lar at the bachelor’s and master’s lev­els. Regard­less of the lev­el of study, though, it’s cru­cial that the pro­gram is accredited.

Accred­i­ta­tion ensures aca­d­e­m­ic stan­dards and edu­ca­tion­al qual­i­ty. Accred­i­ta­tion also gives pro­grams and schools cred­i­bil­i­ty in the aca­d­e­m­ic world and val­ue to employ­ers who want well-trained employ­ees. As a busy, work­ing adult, an accred­it­ed and accel­er­at­ed degree is just what you need to start a new career.


Understanding Accreditation

As not­ed above, the pur­pose of accred­i­ta­tion is to com­mu­ni­cate that a pro­gram meets rig­or­ous edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards. The impor­tance of accred­i­ta­tion can­not be under­stat­ed; it gives val­ue to your degree, makes it much more like­ly that your cred­its will trans­fer from one school to the next, and opens up more finan­cial aid oppor­tu­ni­ties for you. There are numer­ous types of accred­i­ta­tion stan­dards in education:

Accred­i­ta­tion TypeFea­tures
Region­al AccreditationHis­tor­i­cal­ly, region­al accred­i­ta­tion has been the most com­mon type of insti­tu­tion­al accred­i­ta­tion and the most dif­fi­cult to obtain. Region­al accred­i­ta­tion is usu­al­ly reserved for not-for-prof­it institutions.
Nation­al AccreditationHis­tor­i­cal­ly, it has accred­it­ed online, reli­gious, trade-based, and pro­fes­sion­al pro­grams. Nation­al Accred­i­ta­tion is his­tor­i­cal­ly eas­i­er to obtain. Many for-prof­it schools have nation­al accreditation.
Insti­tu­tion­al AccreditationAccred­i­ta­tion for an entire col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty grant­ed by a region­al or nation­al accreditor.*
Pro­gram­mat­ic AccreditationAccred­i­ta­tion for a spe­cif­ic pro­gram with­in a col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty. The Coun­cil for Accred­i­ta­tion of Coun­sel­ing and Relat­ed Edu­ca­tion­al Pro­grams (CACREP) is one of about 60 pro­gram­mat­ic accred­i­tors rec­og­nized by the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. Grad­u­at­ing from a CACREP-accred­it­ed pro­gram is required to be licensed as a coun­selor. Many oth­er pro­fes­sion­al licen­sures (e.g., teach­ing, nurs­ing) have sim­i­lar requirements.

*Since 2019, region­al and nation­al accred­it­ing agen­cies have been known as “insti­tu­tion­al accred­i­tors.” In the past, region­al vs nation­al accred­i­ta­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant debate, but rule changes that allow region­al accred­i­tors to work out­side their home region elim­i­nat­ed the dis­tinc­tion between region­al and nation­al accred­i­ta­tion, at least from a nomen­cla­ture standpoint.

Pri­vate orga­ni­za­tions are respon­si­ble for accred­i­ta­tion. How­ev­er, these accred­it­ing agen­cies are rec­og­nized by the fed­er­al Depart­ment of Education.

For exam­ple, one of the largest insti­tu­tion­al accred­i­tors is the High­er Learn­ing Com­mis­sion (HLC). Its mis­sion is to “Advance the com­mon good through qual­i­ty assur­ance of high­er edu­ca­tion as the leader in equi­table, trans­for­ma­tive and trust­ed accred­i­ta­tion in the ser­vice of stu­dents and mem­ber insti­tu­tions.” Oth­er insti­tu­tion­al accred­i­tors have sim­i­lar missions.

Some of the cri­te­ria that HLC and oth­er accred­i­tors use to eval­u­ate pro­grams and insti­tu­tions include the following:

  • Do a school’s degrees pre­pare its grad­u­ates well for a career?
  • Does the school have appro­pri­ate finances to ful­fill its duties to its students?
  • Are fac­ul­ty mem­bers well-trained? Do they have appro­pri­ate degrees for the course­work they teach?
  • What kind of stu­dent sup­port ser­vices are available?
  • Does the school engage in fair recruit­ment and admis­sion practices?

Addi­tion­al­ly, accred­i­tors ask schools to under­go self-stud­ies, engage in peer reviews, and host site vis­its from accred­i­ta­tion offi­cials. That being the case, gain­ing accred­i­ta­tion is often a years-long process.


Benefits of Choosing an Accredited Program

Accred­it­ed online degrees blend the con­ve­nience of remote stud­ies with the aca­d­e­m­ic rig­or asso­ci­at­ed with accred­i­ta­tion. Need­less to say, there are many ben­e­fits of accred­it­ed degrees earned online (and in-per­son, too):

  • Qual­i­ty Assur­ance — Accred­i­ta­tion means a school or pro­gram has demon­strat­ed a com­mit­ment to a high lev­el of edu­ca­tion­al qual­i­ty for its students.
  • Finan­cial Aid Eli­gi­bil­i­ty - As not­ed ear­li­er, get­ting a degree from an accred­it­ed pro­gram or school might mean a greater selec­tion of avail­able finan­cial aid. In fact, finan­cial aid for accred­it­ed pro­grams includes mon­ey from fed­er­al and state enti­tle­ment pro­grams (e.g., Stafford Loans, Pell Grants). In con­trast, non-accred­it­ed schools and pro­grams do not have access to these funds.
  • Cred­it Trans­fers — Cred­its earned at an accred­it­ed insti­tu­tion are much more like­ly to trans­fer to anoth­er school than cred­its earned at a non-accred­it­ed insti­tu­tion. In fact, accred­it­ed col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties sel­dom accept cred­its earned from non-accred­it­ed schools.
  • Improved Employ­a­bil­i­ty — Employ­ment prospects with accred­it­ed degrees are much high­er than if you earn a degree from a non-accred­it­ed pro­gram or school. As men­tioned ear­li­er, some careers require you to grad­u­ate from an accred­it­ed pro­gram and/or institution.

Risks of Enrolling in a Non-Accredited Program

Online edu­ca­tion for work­ing adults comes in many forms. But, not all online pro­grams are worth your time or effort. Avoid­ing diplo­ma mills that church out grad­u­ates with lit­tle regard for skills devel­op­ment or career prepa­ra­tion is cru­cial­ly impor­tant. If not, you might face sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles, such as:

  • Lim­it­ed job oppor­tu­ni­ties after you graduate.
  • Dif­fi­cul­ty trans­fer­ring already-earned credits.
  • The poten­tial for a loss of a lot of your time and money.

The key to avoid­ing this fate is to dou­ble-check each insti­tu­tion on your short­list for its accred­i­ta­tion status.

How to Verify Accreditation

Typ­i­cal­ly, pro­grams and schools adver­tise the type of accred­i­ta­tion they have and from whom. This infor­ma­tion is often dis­played direct­ly on a program’s web­site or an institution’s accred­i­ta­tion page. If you have trou­ble find­ing the accred­i­ta­tion infor­ma­tion for a school that inter­ests you, try any of the fol­low­ing tools to get the need­ed details:

  • Use the U.S. Depart­ment of Education’s search tool for accred­it­ed institutions.
  • Search data­bas­es on pro­gram­mat­ic accred­i­tors web­sites that relate to your pro­gram of choice (e.g., search­ing CACREP’s data­base to ensure a coun­sel­ing grad­u­ate pro­gram is accredited).
  • Use Google to search for the spe­cif­ic institution’s name plus “accred­i­ta­tion.”
  • Call the schools you’re inter­est­ed in and inquire about their accred­i­ta­tion status.

Again, ver­i­fy­ing that a pro­gram or insti­tu­tion is accred­it­ed is essen­tial before enrolling. If not, you put your time and mon­ey at risk by enrolling in a non-accred­it­ed pro­gram or diplo­ma mill.

Real-Life Implications for Working Adults

Enrolling in an accred­it­ed online pro­gram can be the gate­way to a new career and life. As a work­ing adult, sav­ing time is like­ly para­mount; you can do so with an accel­er­at­ed degree. In some cas­es, accel­er­at­ed degrees can be sur­pris­ing­ly fast; some stu­dents can com­plete a four-year pro­gram in just two or three years.

Like­wise, some of the best accred­it­ed fast-track pro­grams help you com­bine a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Often called 4+1 pro­grams, you can earn both degrees in just five years. This is pos­si­ble because you can take some grad­u­ate cours­es as an under­grad­u­ate, which then count for both degrees.

Of course, bal­anc­ing work and edu­ca­tion is much eas­i­er when you enroll in an accred­it­ed, accel­er­at­ed pro­gram. As dis­cussed ear­li­er, an accred­it­ed degree makes you more employ­able and helps pro­tect you against wast­ing your time in a diplo­ma mill sit­u­a­tion. Com­bined with fast-track cours­es that help you grad­u­ate faster, it’s the ide­al com­bi­na­tion for get­ting an edu­ca­tion while min­i­miz­ing the impact on your work and social lives.


Choos­ing the right accel­er­at­ed degree is not a deci­sion that should be tak­en light­ly. Instead, invest the time in thor­ough­ly research­ing pro­grams and schools. This should include con­tact­ing admis­sions coun­selors or pro­gram rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ask about accel­er­at­ed class­es and accred­i­ta­tion issues.

Also inquire about issues relat­ed to cred­it trans­fer for work­ing adults. Though your cred­its might be many years old, they might still trans­fer! Any trans­fer cred­its you can use toward your next degree will save you time and mon­ey. What’s not to like about that?!

In the end, it’s up to you to do the hard work to grad­u­ate from col­lege. But that hard work starts before you take your first class. Vet your options so you’re sure the pro­gram and school you choose are what you need to make your career goals a reality.