It would be a nightmare to invest months or years of irreplaceable time – and money – to find out that the online courses you took will not transfer to another school, or the online degree you earned is meaningless in the eyes of a potential employer.
You can prevent that from happening. When researching online universities and online degree programs, you need to be concerned about the quality and rigor of the education the school provides to ensure it will prepare you properly for your chosen field.
And that's what regionally accredited online colleges and universities are all about.
Here are some of the basics about accreditation and why it makes sense to choose a regionally accredited online degree program.
What does "Regionally Accredited Online Colleges and Universities" mean?
For the most part, colleges in the United States operate independently and autonomously, so the quality and rigor of programs can vary greatly. Regionally accredited online colleges and universities mean that a school has undergone an extensive peer review process. This "seal of approval," assures you that the university meets a set of expectations that help to ensure quality and effectiveness.
Why is the regional accreditation part of regionally accredited online colleges and universities important?
Historically, regional accreditation agencies started as leagues of traditional colleges and universities in a specific area. Here are the regional accreditation agencies in the United States, which judge the quality of a college or university's programs and how the school stacks up against others in the same region.
Regional accreditation is considered the "gold standard" of accreditation. It is the highest form of institutional accreditation a college or university can obtain.
Most traditional academic programs and nonprofit, brick-and-mortar schools such as private liberal arts universities are regionally accredited. That's because these schools have well-established reputations in higher education, grounded in a strong academic tradition.
What does regional accreditation mean for online degree programs?
Regionally accredited, nonprofit schools have a long tradition of integrity and commitment to student needs and outcomes. Schools offering online degree programs that are regionally accredited, such as Saint Leo University, are subject to the same review process as brick-and-mortar schools and must meet the same standards.¹
How does regional accreditation affect my online degree?
While accreditation does not guarantee employment, some employers want students who have graduated from regionally accredited institutions. If you attend a regionally accredited school, you shouldn't have to worry about your degree being accepted by employers or graduate schools.
It's important to know that credits earned at a regionally accredited school are accepted by most any other school. So it's easy to transfer from a regionally accredited school to another college or university.
How do I find out if a school is one of the regionally accredited online colleges or universities?
The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain databases of thousands of postsecondary institutions and programs. It takes no time at all to research the schools or programs you're interested in.
What is national accreditation?
National accreditation agencies evaluate specific types of schools and colleges that have a common theme – nontraditional colleges such as trade and career schools, and certain online colleges. For-profit universities and vocational schools focused on a specific field of study may be nationally accredited.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to transfer from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited school. Regionally accredited schools usually do not accept credits from a nationally accredited school.
National accreditation can also be earned by specific programs within a regionally accredited institution. This is different from national accreditation of schools. For example, Saint Leo University's online business degree programs are nationally accredited by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE), which is an additional indication of the program's rigor.
The bottom line: Do your research.
As the Department of Education recommends, before you enroll in any postsecondary institution or program, make sure that it will meet your educational and career goals. Look into any other schools to which you might want to transfer to ensure they will accept your credits. Know what the requirements are for your field of study and for any potential employer.
Have you had any experience related to accreditation that you would like to share in the comments below?
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¹Saint Leo University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award the associate, bachelor's, master's, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Saint Leo University.
Image Credit: Saint Leo University Communications