By gaining accreditation, a college or university proves that its facilities and educational standards adhere to national standards. But who decides when a school earns accreditation? What does accreditation mean for students, and how can you distinguish between an accredited school and a diploma mill? Here is a closer look at college accreditation.
How Do Schools Become Accredited?
Before gaining accreditation, a college must first invite a private accrediting agency to conduct on-site tests. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of recognized accrediting agencies; any school you consider attending should be accredited by one or more of these accrediting bodies. According to Peterson’s, the accreditation process may last anywhere between five and 10 years, during which an accrediting organization determines whether a school meets standards for accreditation or pre-accreditation status.
Colleges may be judged on criteria such as:
* Facilities, equipment, and supplies
* Faculty recruitment
* Academic standards and policies
* Tuition fees
* Student achievement
* Student support services
Even after a school qualifies, accrediting organizations will return regularly to monitor its progress. This helps guarantee that the accredited school continues to offer its students a top-notch education.
What Does Accreditation Mean for You?
First of all, accreditation means that your degree is more likely to be recognized by potential employers. Also, if you decide to switch colleges or plan to attend graduate school, your accredited degree should help ensure that your credits transfer. Accredited institutions also give students access to federally based financial aid programs, such as Federal Pell Grants, work-study programs, and Stafford Loans. You can’t use these financial aid tools at unaccredited institutions.
You should remember, however, that accreditation does not guarantee that a school’s graduates can transfer their credits or find post-graduate employment. Different institutions and employers have varying standards for accepting students’ degrees, regardless of accreditation. Because of this, students should make sure that the school they want to attend can help them reach their career goals (for example, make sure that the company you want to work for recruits or hires graduates of your prospective school) before spending any hard-earned tuition money.