The U.S. Department of Education says that the goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. These levels of quality are usually issued by specific accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope that develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. When a school or program requests an agency's evaluation and that school meet's all the criteria, that school is then "accredited" by that specific agency.
Accreditation is extremely important when it comes to financial aid-it directly determines a school's eligibility for participation in federal and state financial aid programs. The government wants to make sure it is giving its money to institutions that ensure quality academics and adherence to high standards.
Knowing If Your School Is Legit
If you're curious to know if your university made the list, check out two of the largest accrediting agencies in the United States, the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Additionally, there are six regional agencies that are recognized by the education department and CHEA and have a searchable database of the schools that it accredits on its Web site.
The Impact of Good Credentials
Employers have a keen eye for a good r?sum? and are becoming even keener about choosing candidates to fill their positions. So when it comes to accredited programs, they really do matter when it comes to snagging your first, or even not first, job. It is also common that in addition to making sure you attended an accredited program, that states require that a college, university, or program be accredited when allowing students to acquire state licensure.
Avoiding the Fake
While researching programs that are accredited, you might come across a few that merely pretend to be. So be smart: avoid what are known as "accreditation mills" that offer bogus or inauthentic accreditation or certificates to higher learning institutions. The federal government and CHEA do not recognize these fakes and students who receive a degree from these schools do not have that stamp of approval.
Here are a few things to help you steer clear:
- Check to see if the school is accredited by a top agency.
- If you can purchase accreditation, it's not for real.
- Make sure the school offers proof of accreditation.
- If the school offers accreditation status in a suspiciously short amount of time or offers permanent accreditation without requiring review and renewal, something is fishy.
That said, the relationship between grad students and their instructors is often delicate and not always rosy. Ask yourself these questions if a misunderstanding arises between you and your professor:
By Natalie Pezzenti, staff writer