When you’re selecting a college or university, one of the things you should consider is if a school is accredited or not, and by whom. This becomes even more important if you’ve previously attended college and are looking to return to the classroom.
So why is it important to attend an accredited college or university? In short, financial aid availability, quality of education, and other important factors depend on accreditation status. For example:
- Colleges and universities, including those offering online degrees, must be accredited in order to offer federal financial aid (such as grants and loans) to their students.
- Transferring of credits often depends on a school’s accreditation status and type of accreditation.
- Accreditation ensures a certain level of academic quality.
- Accreditation means a school demonstrates positive student outcomes, like retention, graduation, and employment.
- Some industry certifications or professional designations specifically require a degree from an accredited institution.
To dig a little deeper into accredited colleges, we spoke with an expert, Dr. Joseph Hoey, vice provost of academic services at National University. He says consumer protection is the overall idea behind accreditation.
“The biggest thing is the transferability of credits,” he explains, describing relocating for a job or starting a family as being possible reasons to interrupt a college education. “Someone may want to then come back later in life, and if the credits don’t transfer, they could lose a lot of time and a lot of money.”
Most traditional colleges and universities are regionally accredited, whereas trade schools and other niche institutions are often nationally accredited. There’s a difference between the two types of accredited colleges; and, according to Hoey, regional “is the gold standard of accreditation.” Because they have the same quality standards, regionally accredited universities like National will often only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools. This is why it’s also crucial to also ask about credit-transfer policies before enrolling.
Accreditation and Online Degree Programs
Today, you have more options than ever to learn on your own time and schedule. With the increasing popularity of online degrees, however, it is more important than ever to ask “Why is it important to attend an accredited college or university?” Because of the rapid proliferation of web-based programs, it’s especially important to ensure you’re looking only into accredited online degrees. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’ll receive quality instruction and will have access to library resources and other student services.
Hoey adds that online degree accreditation is not just about academics, but it also means having proper technology and processes in place to deliver online programs and the ability to support students from afar. That, he says, is crucial to student success.
If a school isn’t accredited, has lost its accreditation, or is in danger of losing accreditation, it can certainly be a red flag for a prospective student. Hoey explains this could indicate students are not graduating with the proper skills to gain adequate employment, which can in turn impact ability to repay student loans. A lack of accreditation can also mean a larger-than-acceptable percentage of students are not seeing their degree through to completion.
To circle back to Hoey’s idea of consumer protection, there’s also the unfortunate but realistic possibility of schools closing unexpectedly, whether due to accreditation loss or other reasons. Every closure scenario is different, but a possible devastating outcome is that many students could find themselves with a transcript of some college-level courses that will not transfer to other schools.
Accreditation: Ask the Question
To recap the ever-important question of “Why is it important to attend an accredited college or university?” let’s reiterate three of the most important reasons our expert shared: financial aid availability, transferability of credits, and high quality of education.
Whether you are planning to attend classes in person or work toward an online degree, protect yourself and your educational investment by confirming that you are considering properly accredited colleges and universities.
National University has been accredited since 1977 by WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. To learn more about the regionally accredited National University and its on-campus and online degree programs, explore our offerings here.