What are the Most Common Accrediting Agencies for Colleges and Universities Offering Undergraduate Degrees?

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Col­lege is an invest­ment in your future, and it’s an expen­sive under­tak­ing. Like any big pur­chase, it’s wise to ensure you’re get­ting a high-qual­i­ty prod­uct or ser­vice before you buy. That’s what accred­it­ing agen­cies do. Tech­ni­cal­ly, these groups are agen­cies rec­og­nized by the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion as author­i­ties on deter­min­ing the qual­i­ty of a col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty’s pro­grams. They are pri­vate enti­ties, can be region­al or nation­al in scope, and can use what­ev­er stan­dards they wish in order to mea­sure qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion at a school. Accred­i­ta­tion can be giv­en to a sin­gle degree pro­gram or to an entire school.

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

Accred­i­ta­tion is extreme­ly impor­tant, espe­cial­ly if you are con­sid­er­ing an under­grad­u­ate degree in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing or math (STEM). You would­n’t want to go to a doc­tor or den­tist that did­n’t have the right train­ing, or dri­ve across a bridge designed by an engi­neer who has­n’t learned physics or struc­tur­al mechan­ics. Accred­i­ta­tion affects oth­er degree pro­grams, too, includ­ing agri­cul­tur­al sci­ences and even the lib­er­al arts. You would­n’t buy food from a farmer who did­n’t know how to con­duct a soil test, and you would­n’t study phi­los­o­phy with a pro­fes­sor who did­n’t have a full under­stand­ing of world his­to­ry. The stamp of approval from an accred­i­ta­tion agency lets you know you’ll get a well-round­ed, thor­ough edu­ca­tion in the field of your choice.

Accred­i­ta­tion is also impor­tant to employ­ers, espe­cial­ly when you’re seek­ing an entry-lev­el job after grad­u­a­tion. Imag­ine you’re an employ­er, con­sid­er­ing two even­ly-matched can­di­dates for a job. Both are smart, moti­vat­ed, enthu­si­as­tic and per­son­able. One went to an accred­it­ed school, the oth­er did­n’t. Which can­di­date are you going to pick?

How Do Colleges and Universities Earn Accreditation?

Accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies devel­op sets of cri­te­ria for judg­ing the qual­i­ty of a school. Then they con­duct a peer eval­u­a­tion to deter­mine whether or not the cri­te­ria are being met. Schools seek out accred­i­ta­tion on a vol­un­tary basis, and usu­al­ly spend months prepar­ing for appli­ca­tion and review. Once the review is com­plete, most col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties will pub­lish the fact that they’re accred­it­ed and fea­ture it promi­nent­ly in recruit­ing materials.

Are Some Agencies Better Than Others?

Since accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies are pri­vate, they can deter­mine their own set of stan­dards for judg­ing a school’s pro­grams. Nat­u­ral­ly, those stan­dards vary from agency to agency and some of those stan­dards are def­i­nite­ly high­er than oth­ers. The Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion is required to pub­lish a list of accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies rec­og­nized by the gov­ern­ment, and though these agen­cies aren’t required to pur­sue that recog­ni­tion, the most pres­ti­gious accred­it­ing agen­cies are linked to the most pres­ti­gious pro­grams and aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions. It’s also worth men­tion­ing that accred­i­ta­tion can be giv­en to a sin­gle degree pro­gram or to an entire school.

What Are the Most Recognized Accreditation Agencies?

Some of the most eas­i­ly rec­og­nized and most spe­cial­ized accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies on the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion (DOE) list have instant­ly famil­iar names. The Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion, the Amer­i­can Den­tal Asso­ci­a­tion and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­ical Col­leges are only a few such agen­cies. Oth­ers are less well-known to the gen­er­al pub­lic but are high­ly respect­ed in cer­tain pro­fes­sions, such as the Accred­i­ta­tion Board for Engi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­o­gy, the Accred­i­ta­tion Coun­cil for Phar­ma­cy Edu­ca­tion, the Nation­al Coun­cil for Accred­i­ta­tion of Teacher Edu­ca­tion, among many, many others.

What About Online Universities and Colleges?

As the pop­u­lar­i­ty of dis­tance learn­ing grows by leaps and bounds, online uni­ver­si­ties have sprung up to meet the demand. Accred­i­ta­tion is just as impor­tant to these schools as it is to their brick-and-mor­tar coun­ter­parts, and per­haps more so. Part of the rea­son for this is that almost any­thing can be bought or sold on the inter­net, and that’s always a risk of fraud for the buy­er. The DOE has respond­ed by pub­lish­ing a list of dis­tance edu­ca­tion accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies, which is easy to find on inter­net search engines. Addi­tion­al­ly, many estab­lished accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies now include accred­i­ta­tion for dis­tance learn­ing “annex­es” of brick-and-mor­tar insti­tu­tions in the appli­ca­tion process.

Are There Fake Accrediting Agencies?

There are many fly-by-night accred­it­ing agen­cies out there, many of them online. Keep in mind that the DOE does not rec­og­nize inter­na­tion­al accred­i­ta­tion agen­cies, only region­al and nation­al agen­cies in the Unit­ed States. Beware of schools that tout accred­i­ta­tion from agen­cies that are not on the DOE list, and don’t be fooled by offi­cial-sound­ing names. It’s worth the few min­utes it takes to check it out!

If you want an under­grad­u­ate degree, and whether you plan to attend online or on cam­pus, choos­ing a col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty will deter­mine your edu­ca­tion­al and finan­cial course for the next four years. It’s a sub­stan­tial invest­ment of time and mon­ey, so keep accred­i­ta­tion high on your list of require­ments. As with most things in life, it is best to check the facts before mak­ing your choice!


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