What’s the Difference between Regional and National Accreditation?

The bureaucracy behind academic accreditation can be confusing. What does regionally accredited mean? What are the differences between regional vs national accreditation? Not being able to answer these questions might negatively impact career prospects, your ability to access federal student aid, or even your ability to transfer credits between schools.  

Taking a moment to understand accreditation has the potential to save students an enormous amount of time, effort, and money.

Accreditation 101

Broadly speaking, accreditation is a voluntary process where a school requests a formal evaluation from an agency which conducts accreditations. The specific requirements behind any particular accreditation is determined by the agency which created the standards. But generally, those requirements aim at ensuring an institution can provide students with appropriate faculty, institutional stability, and a variety of other important educational standards.

It’s a common misconception that the Department of Education is responsible for accreditation. However, they do determine if an accrediting agency meets their standards; and consequently accreditation can influence a student’s access to both federal financial aid and corporate tuition benefits. 

Currently, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) lists 19 approved accrediting bodies in the United States. But in order to look closer into the comparison between regionally accredited vs nationally accredited institutions, we’ll have to start by looking at regional and national accreditation individually. You might also want to learn more about the reasons why accreditation matters.

What is Regional Accreditation?

Regional accreditation is regarded as the most prestigious form of accreditation. This type of accreditation is focused on typical colleges and universities, including both state-owned and non-profit schools. Reviewed by a regional agency with the approval of the Department of Education, this form of accreditation is the most widely recognized. The six largest regional accrediting agencies include:

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • North Central Association (NCA)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

A regionally accredited institution isn’t necessarily non-profit, and doesn’t necessarily have higher admission standards — but does tend to be both. But in practice, regionally accredited meaning can depend on the student and their objectives. For example, more than a quarter of students transfer to a new school at some point during their education, and regionally accredited credits will find them accepted by both regionally and nationally accredited schools.

What Does It Mean to be Nationally Accredited?

Nationally accredited schools are primarily vocational schools, career programs, religious institutions, industry-specific certifications, or a similar education niche. For instance, fields that require specific kinds of licensure, like healthcare, often involve national accreditation. Four of the more noteworthy national accrediting bodies include the:

  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Association for Biblical Higher Education
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges

These programs tend to be less expensive, mostly for-profit, and often have comparably lower admission standards. Nationally accredited schools award credits that are recognized at other nationally accredited schools, but not at regionally accredited ones.  

Some of these accreditations are uniquely attractive to employers, while others are outright mandatory. If you’re planning on entering such a field, it can be worth learning more about program-specific accreditation

Regionally Accredited vs Nationally Accredited

The difference between regional and national accreditation can be broken into just a few key elements, but it’s also important to not overlook the similarities.  For instance, both regional and national accreditation can ensure students have access to federal student aid programs. And while accreditation can’t guarantee quality, maintaining accreditation does require schools to demonstrate that they continue to meet certain standards, like institutional stability. 

Conversely, attending an unaccredited institution can be comparably insecure. It might mean you risk the school closing before your completion date. You may find yourself with a bunch of credits that other schools won’t accept, or a certification that nobody cares about. Outside of those kinds of disaster scenarios, the most important differences come down to transferability of credits, selectivity in the admissions process, and funding.

National University Accredited – Case Example

Some of the best schools will have multiple accreditations, allowing them to serve a broader range of students. For example, National University has accreditation from a wide variety of institutions, including: 

  • Accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
  • Accredited by the National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for educator preparation programs
  • Approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC)
  • Approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • The baccalaureate degree program in nursing, master’s degree program in nursing, and post-graduate APRN certificate programs at National University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, 655 K Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20001, 202-887-6791
  • Designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE IAE) for the Master of Science in Cyber Security and Information Assurance program
  • Approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) for the offering of the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies, Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies, and Paralegal Specialist Certificates
  • Approved by the Association of Commercial Diving Educators (ACDE) for the offering of the Professional Certificate in Marine Technology
  • Accredited by the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) for the offering of the Master of Public Health (probationary status)
  • Accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) for the offering of the Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia
  • Accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) for the BS Radiation Therapy program
  • Approved by the Nevada State Board of Education
  • Certified by the Society of Human Resource Management for the Masters of Arts in Human Resource Management
  • A member of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
  • A member of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS)
  • A member of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) through its American Language and Intercultural Studies program

Professional accreditations make for more compelling job candidates, but knowing which are worthwhile and which aren’t can be its own challenge. Making informed decisions about which school you attend can require knowing more about what kind of accreditation a school should have for your intended career path.

It’s always a good idea to review the accreditation for any school you consider attending, and it’s not difficult to do so. The official list of postsecondary education institutions that has been accredited through the U.S. Department of Education, which keeps a database of accredited postsecondary programs and institutions.  

Additional Sources 

https://www.ed.gov/accreditation

https://ope.ed.gov/dapip/#/home