Seal of the United States Department of Education

L. L. Plante – January 10, 2012

      There is a big push on these days to either go back to school to learn a new profession or to brush up or increase your current profession.  This push towards higher education takes on numerous forms such as ads, emails, and phone calls; all trying to compete for your admission to their online school.  I am an avid believer in continuous education but there are steps that you should be aware of before choosing what you may think is the perfect online school for you.

      One would assume that the curriculum offered would be most important in choosing your school.  And it certainly is.  Other considerations would include how one school over other schools shows its importance to your personal needs.  And this is also very important as it can be a very personal judgment on your part.  What most perspective students do not consider is the school’s accreditation.  This is more important than most people think.

      Accreditation of a school can be either regional or national.  Now you’re asking, what is the difference?  Most schools will go into a discussion on the relevance or non-relevance of being national or regional and this information, at the time, will go over your head as they try to convince you that it really does not matter.  Remember, you are being bombarded by many different educational institutions and trying to make up your mind which ones to consider.  Stop, and take notes because whether a school is nationally or regionally accredited can affect your continued education and sometimes even what types of jobs you may qualify once you graduate.

     Here is a short definition of what accreditation means and the two different types of accreditation. Accreditation means that a school has been evaluated by education authorities; evaluation ensures that a particular school is offering high quality learning opportunities.   However, accreditation is a process and a very expensive process for the school which colleges and universities voluntarily apply to receive.  In the United States there are six regional accrediting agencies covering different sections of the country.  Therefore, if an online college chooses to apply for a regional accreditation it will be evaluated by a regional agency governing over its home state.  These accrediting agencies are all recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.  On the other hand, national accreditation is not based on geography and was designed to evaluate specific types of schools and colleges; for example, the Distance Education and Training Council accredits colleges that offer distance education.  Colleges and schools often apply for national accreditation when their model of instruction or their course content is different from most traditional degree programs.  How does this affect your decision?  Well, regional accrediting agencies may not be able to compare a career school with a liberal arts college, for example, because the methods of study are so dissimilar.

      At this point, you are asking yourself, so how does this affect me?  The answer is quite simple.  If you attend a nationally accredited online school and decide either part way through your studies or even after you have graduated to attend another school, you may not be able to attend the school of your choice because the school you attended was nationally accredited and not regionally accredited.  This can be disheartening after spending some time advancing your education to find out that it may have been for nothing.  Now, if you are certain, that say for example, all you want is your bachelor’s degree, then it may not be of much concern to you.  Just remember, as time goes by, choices you make can affect future choices you have not even considered today.  Have a good understanding of the different classifications and how a school’s accreditation may limit future choices before making a wise choice to which school you want to attend today.