How Important is Accreditation?
Accreditation can be a tricky subject, especially as it relates to distance education and online degree programs. One of the first things to remember is that a school or college that is licensed is not necessarily accredited. Licensure simply gives an institution the legal right to function (to offer online degrees and/or campus based programs). While there may be some standards required for educational licensure, they are generally pretty minimal.. As a result, licensure should not be viewed as a guarantee of educational quality. In other words, be wary of schools, colleges or universities which talk about state licensure rather than accreditation.
It is even more important to realize that many colleges and universities, especially online colleges and universities (those with no traditional, campus-based degree programs), claim accreditation from agencies which are not recognized by the United States Department of Education. While some of these unrecognized accrediting agencies may make a legitimate attempt to evaluate and insist on some measure of quality from the colleges and universities they accredit, their stamp of approval is generally meaningless in the professional world and in the world of fully accredited (online and traditional) colleges and universities. For instance, most schools and colleges will not hire staff unless they hold appropriate degrees from colleges and universities accredited by recognized accreditation agencies. Similarly, most government agencies, and many businesses, when they require degrees for employees, will not recognize the validity of degrees from institutions which are not legitimately accredited.
Similarly, although there are exceptions, most colleges and universities will not award students transfer credit for coursework completed at institutions not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. The reality is that most colleges, universities, businesses, government agencies (and prospective employers of all kinds) will regard a college or university as unaccredited if it is not accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.
Depending on your individual situation and goals, you may not care much about accreditation. But, our advice is…whether you are taking courses in a traditional campus based program or through online education…you are almost always better off at a school, college or university accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. That being the case, before deciding to enroll in a college or university, find out which agency accredits it, and be sure that agency is listed on the United States Department of Education website.
Accreditation will not guarantee that you will be completely satisfied with a particular college or degree program. But, it does mean that some standards of quality are in place, that you may be able to transfer credits if you are so inclined, and that most employers will recognize the validity of your coursework and/or degree. In addition, appropriate coursework or a credible degree from an accredited institution of higher education can help qualify you for admission to other degree programs.
Conversely, an unaccredited degree will normally be a dead end. For instance, most accredited graduate schools will not admit a student with an undergraduate degree from an unaccredited institution.