National vs. Regional Accreditation: Which Should I Trust?

National vs. Regional Accreditation: Which Should I Trust?
The Editorial Team April 29, 2020

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Where you attend college is just as important as the type of degree you get. Some colleges are nationally accredited, while others are regionally accredited. Prospective college students should consider the accreditation of the schools they plan to attend.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”

It’s important to note that schools must maintain accreditation, and accrediting bodies review institutions regularly to ensure the quality of education.

Why Is It Important to Attend an Accredited College?

Accreditation, whether regionally accredited vs. nationally accredited, ensures that the institution has met minimum standards of quality. The type of accreditation a school has, or whether it has one at all, helps students evaluate the rigor of the school. It also affects whether students can transfer some or all of their credits and can help determine a student’s eligibility for federal tuition assistance. After graduation, accreditation can influence a prospective employer’s decision on whether a graduate is qualified for the job.

What Does Nationally Accredited Mean?

National accreditation is primarily focused on career and vocational programs and is most common in for-profit universities. If you’re pursuing higher education for a skilled trade, such as a mechanic, nurse, or accountant, then a national accreditation may be in your best interests.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges are the primary accrediting organizations for nationally accredited schools. These schools also tend to have less stringent liberal arts requirements for graduation, which many people looking for career and trades training may appreciate. Despite their for-profit nature, nationally accredited schools tend to be less expensive, which could mean lower loan obligations for students.

What Is Regional Accreditation?

Regional accreditation is state-owned and highly prestigious, focusing on the degree programs in either public state universities or private colleges and universities. The term regional refers to the area where the accrediting body operates, and there are seven regional agencies that review the schools in their area. When most people talk about an accredited university, this is usually the type they mean.

List of Regional Accrediting Organizations

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges: California, Hawaii, the Territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Higher Learning Commission: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or federally authorized sovereign nations
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education: Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other geographical areas outside the United States
  • New England Commission of Higher Education: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and internationally
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and internationally
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Latin America, and other Commission-approved international sites
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission: California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Basin

Regional accreditation is the most esteemed, and more than 85% of colleges in the nation are regionally accredited. Regionally accredited schools have the most widely accepted credit transfer, which gives students the flexibility to transfer community college credits to a university or to relocate if necessary.

Regionally accredited schools also include those eligible for corporate tuition reimbursement programs, which can be an important consideration for students studying to obtain a degree program in the industry in which they work.

Which Accreditation Matters When Researching Colleges?

Accreditation is better than non-accreditation, so look for an accredited school when researching colleges. Non-accredited schools are sometimes looked at askance, as they may simply be diploma mills, issuing degrees to anyone who pays the tuition. When choosing between regional and national accreditation, keep in mind that the standards for regional accreditation are the most rigorous and respected.

How to Determine a College’s Accreditation

Checking the accreditation of any college is simple. Just visit the U.S. Department of Education’s College Search page or search the online database for accredited schools. You can also research each college you’re interested in or the ones you’ve been accepted to by simply looking at their websites or calling the administration department to ask about accreditation and standards.

Should You Trust Nonaccredited and Nationally Accredited Colleges?

Students who attend nonaccredited schools may not get as good an education as those in a regionally accredited school or a nationally accredited one because the standards for teaching and learning may not be as high as those for accredited schools. In the end, graduates may not acquire the skills they need to be successful in their field.

However, nationally accredited schools are trustworthy because they are held to particular standards of education geared toward those who are pursuing a trade program. Attending a nationally accredited school may give graduates an edge in the job market by making them more marketable than those who attend non accredited institutions.

Does Accreditation Affect Job Prospects?

Before enrolling in higher education, do a little research about the types of colleges that best suit your career goals. If you’re pursuing technical knowledge or a trade, a nationally accredited school can give you the practical education and training you need for a job. People who are going to college to pursue an advanced degree may wish to look at regionally accredited schools.

Your job prospects depend not just on the degree you get, but on the value of that degree. Some employers may automatically reject an applicant with a degree from a non-accredited school, especially if the applicant has no other work experience. Understanding which type of accreditation your industry prefers should be one of the guidelines for the schools you consider.

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