Online degree programs can be an excellent alternative to traditional colleges and universities. They offer more flexibility and typically cost less than in-person classes. For a lot of students, these programs offer a much more reasonable route to success. As with any online service, however, prospective students need to be on the lookout for scam artists and sub-par university systems. One way for a student to ensure that they are getting a quality education is to make sure that their chosen university is accredited.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is the process of being reviewed and evaluated. For a college or university to become accredited, they much meet the standards set by the accrediting agency. Although these standards may have some variation, any legitimate accrediting agency will pay special attention to the quality of the professors employed by the university as well as the quality of education that students receive. Although accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean that the university is consistently offering a high-quality education, it does mean that they have been evaluated for effectiveness and will likely be evaluated again in the future. This oversight encourages universities to maintain a high-quality curriculum and qualified faculty.
Why Does Accreditation Matter?
Accreditation matters for a few reasons. In addition to being the mark of a legitimate institution, accreditation is required for a student to receive federal financial aid. This means that students who attend schools without accreditation may miss out on grants and loans that could help them to pay for their education. It is also unlikely that a student will be able to transfer credits from an institution that lacks accreditation to one that does, meaning that a student could be stuck retaking the same classes if they decide to attend a different university later. Many employers also view a lack of accreditation as a problem. They fear that the curriculum may be sub-par and often will not pay for an employee to attend classes, even if they do offer an educational reimbursement program. Worse, some employers will hesitate to hire an employee with a degree from an unaccredited college or university.
Are Online Degrees Accredited?
Well, yes, and no. Sure, some online degree programs are accredited, in a manner of speaking. The problem is, some online programs are accredited by recognized and respected institutions with the highest of standards while others are only accredited through small organizations that have extremely low standards and aim to generate a profit by offering pseudo accreditation.
Keep this in mind when checking on accreditation- most colleges and universities will proudly display their accreditation status somewhere on their website. Not only display, but explain what criteria the accreditation process required. If they do not, students should be sure to call and ask the admissions office about accreditation before they enroll.
It’s also important to note that not all accrediting agencies are equal. The federal government only recognizes seven regional accrediting agencies, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation only recognizes six. In addition, the federal government recognizes a hand full of national accreditors. Some professional associations also have their own accreditation processes.
Typically, an institution that is able to obtain regional accreditation by a recognized agency will provide the highest quality educational experience and can be considered a trusted college or university. When researching potential colleges and universities for online programs, prospective students may want to pay special attention to those institutions and programs accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council Accrediting Commission, as this commission focuses on effective teaching practices through online means.
Online degree programs can be a great resource for people who want to further their education but need more options and flexibility than a traditional college or university affords. By ensuring that their institution is accredited, a prospective student can ensure that they are getting a quality education that will be recognized in by employers in the workforce.