Monday, January 21, 2013

Accreditation: Why It's Important

Penn campus
Penn campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Robin A Wright

Accreditation for an institution of higher learning is a very important factor when determining the next step in continuing your education.

Associations set formal regulations that a college or university must meet in areas such as curriculum, academic excellence and facilities. In essence, this grants credibility to your post-secondary degree.

Accreditation is overseen by two governing bodies, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education. These governing bodies acknowledge two different types of accreditation: programmatic/specialized and institutional.

These are awarded by three different agencies: institutional, national and regional. All three agencies can grant accreditation at the institutional level; however, programmatic/specialized agencies are the only agencies that can provide accreditation for a specific program or field.

Institutional accreditation began in 1885 as a way to standardize the education offered at colleges and universities throughout the country. This grants accreditation to the university as a whole. Institutions can be accredited on a national or regional level.

Institutions of higher education that receive accreditation on a regional level are primarily non-profit, very academically driven and maintain high standards of excellence in education. Institutions that qualify at national level tend to be for-profit and offer programs that are mostly vocational.

The importance of accreditation becomes truly significant when it comes to transferring credits to another university. Many regionally accredited universities or colleges will not accept credits from a nationally accredited institution.

However, it is important to note that not all credits from a regionally accredited institution are guaranteed to be accepted either. Additionally these regulations can vary by state and maintain their own specific set of guidelines to determine accreditation. About 3,000 institutions of higher education today meet the regional standards.

As stated above, programmatic or specialized accreditation focuses on specific programs within an institution. Programmatic or specialized accreditation is granted by the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors and was implemented to provide high standards of excellence on a more focused level as opposed to the broad range provided by institutional accreditation.

Programmatic or specialized can cover a "school" within an institution such as the School of Psychology or the School of Social Work; in addition, programmatic accreditation can be awarded to a very specific degree program within and school such as the Clinical Psychology program within the School of Psychology.

This can also be applied to career, technical or vocational programs. Programmatic accreditation reinforces the standards of excellence within the program.

Each accreditation provides value to your continued education in its own way. Whatever program you chose to pursue as your post-secondary education, be sure to research its accreditation to ensure that it lines up with your career goals.

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