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Understanding Accreditation: What Is It?


How do you know that the post-secondary institution you have chosen will give you the high quality education you are paying for? In the United States, institutions that offer post-secondary education are allowed to operate independently. Because of this level of autonomy, the quality of the educational programs offered through these institutions can be varied. The United States government does not exercise any central control over post-secondary education. Accreditation serves this purpose.

College accreditation is the process through which colleges or other post-secondary institutions are measured against certain criteria. These criteria are laid out by specialized, private, non-profit organizations. These agencies are regulated by the United States federal government, although they are independent entities. Accreditation exists to ensure that post-secondary institutions serve four purposes to the benefit of the public.

Accreditation ensures that the level of education that post-secondary institutions provide meets a certain minimum standard of quality. The standards apply not only to the curriculum, but also to the faculty, student services, and libraries. The institutions must also prove that they are financially stable.

For students to qualify for financial aid on a federal level and other federal programs, the institution to which the have been accepted must be accredited by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the federal government.

Accreditation, while not the only factor, is considered very important by the accepting program or institution when a student is transferring, as it ensures the transferring credits are of a certain level of quality

When employers are considering hiring recent graduates or investing in the retraining of their current employees, they will have confidence in the quality of the education received from an accredited institution. It also affects their decision to make charitable contributions to the institution.

In addition, both federal and state funding are available only to accredited programs and institutions and some states require a graduate be from an accredited program or institution in order to qualify for state licensing in some professional fields.

Accreditation is an ongoing process that begins with the submission of the application by a program or institution. They then have to undergo five steps of qualification to become successful applicants. These steps are:

  • Self-study -- a process through which the organization evaluates their own performance based on an internal set of standards.

  • Peer-review -- faculty and administrative peers of a program or institution make up most of the advisory commission and review the self-study once it is complete.

  • Site visit -- teams of qualified individuals including the peer-review team visit the site of the program or institution.

  • Judgment -- commissions are set up to award or deny accreditation or re-accreditation.

  • Ongoing external review -- qualified programs and institutions are required to undergo re-assessment every few years to ensure that they continue to meet the criteria set forth.

The status of any post-secondary institution is important and should be affirmed prior to beginning the application process. The accreditation of the institution ensures that they have met a minimum standard of quality and that the degree or diploma received will be nationally recognized.

The online and campus based degree programs offered through MyOnlineNursingDegree.com contain programs from online colleges that have accreditation which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, (CHEA), is a private, nonprofit national organization that coordinates accreditation activity in the United States. They serve as the primary national voice for voluntary accreditation and quality assurance to the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Education.

CHEA conducts the examination and certification of the quality of regional, national, and specialized accrediting organizations, and is the only nongovernmental higher education organization that undertakes this scrutiny. The federal government, through the U.S. Department of Education, conducts governmental recognition reviews.

USDE publishes a database of Postsecondary Educational Institutions and Programs Accredited by Accrediting Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. This is available at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation. The database lists approximately 6,900 postsecondary institutions and programs, each of which is accredited by an accrediting organization recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a "reliable authority as to the quality of postsecondary education" within the meaning of the U.S. federal Higher Education Act of 1965.

 
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