Step One – Accreditation, that is the question!

blog pic 1So you have made the decision to go to college and earn your degree, great! Now the questions become; what do I want to get a degree in? Which school do I attend?

According to the U.S Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (2013), in 2011 there were 4, 599 2 and 4-year post-secondary educational institutions in the United States, eligible to receive Federal Title IV Financial Aid programs. So finding the right school for you may seem impossible!

Taking a few pages from Steven Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, the first step is to “begin with the end in mind.” What does this mean to you the military-related student? It means to think long-term and determine what you want to do when you get out of the military. What job do you want to do? What career do you want to enter into? Do you want to start your own business and become an entrepreneur? What academic credentials do you need?

These are just a few of the questions you really need to answer before starting your search forblog pic 2 a college to attend and degree program to study. By answering these questions, you will be better able to establish an educational goal and determine the steps necessary for you to achieve it. We will go cover selecting a degree program in our next blog post.

When looking at colleges to attend, one of the first things you need to take into account, before any other consideration, is to determine the accreditation type of the institution. In my travels as director of military programs and while doing research for my book, I had the opportunity to attend many college fairs on military installations. At every college fair I attended what amazed me the most, were the misconceptions on accreditation by the service members and others attending the fairs. Why is the accreditation of the school important? Basically, accreditation is a measure of the quality of the overall educational experience students can expect at a given institution.

If the college or university you plan to or are currently attending is not accredited, the degree, certificate, or credential that you earn, whether you use your own money, use your service provided tuition assistance program, or use your GI Bill benefit, is not worth the paper it is printed on! This is also true if the college or university you are attending loses its accreditation while you are attending it.

In the United States, there are two main types of accreditation – national and regional.

As a minimum, the school that you select to earn your degree from or even just to take a few courses with, should be Nationally Accredited by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). This means that as a minimum the institution is able to receive Federal Title IV Federal Financial Aid for their students.

A college that is nationally accredited will be accredited by any one of dozens of national accrediting organizations. Below are some of the more popular examples of national accrediting institutions:

  • Distance Education and Training Council
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools Accrediting Commission of
  • Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training

One of the biggest misconceptions I see, in working with military-related students, is the belief that a national accreditation is a stronger or better accreditation than a regional one. This is often not the case. In fact, because of their close proximity to the colleges they accredit, regional accrediting bodies have and maintain very high academic standards, in many cases, their standards are much higher than those of national accrediting bodies.

In order to be regionally accredited, colleges and universities “volunteer” to undergo a rigorous and more stringent vetting process by the accrediting body. The initial accreditation is normally temporary or probationary. The college will then be re-evaluated to determine if they meet all of the standards required for accreditation, and a determination as to how long the accreditation will be in effect. Traditionally, regional accreditation will last for a 10-year period, unless the college or university is only “conditionally accredited”.

Colleges and universities seeking regional accreditation will be accredited by one of the following seven regional accrediting bodies, based on geographic location:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE);
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE);
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools The Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HCL);
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU);
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS);
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (WASC-ACCJC);
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-ACSCU).

The accrediting commissions grant accreditation to participating colleges and universities based on a set of standards that are established by each respective accrediting commission. To be regionally accredited is a voluntary process, and one that not every college or university seeks to undergo. The reason is simple, the standards are high!

Within the academic world, accreditation is not taken lightly, and you should not take it lightly either when selecting a college or university from which you wish to earn your degree. We recommend that the school that you select in earning your degree be part of one of the above regional accrediting bodies. Why?

Accreditation also plays into how college credits earned with one institution are accepted by another, aka how easily you can transfer your credits. As a general rule of thumb, any college credits earned from a regionally accredited college or university will be accepted by any other regionally or nationally accredited college or university. However, college credits earned from a nationally accredited college or university may or may not be accepted by a regionally accredited college or university. Why? The reason is accreditation standards. Remember, a regionally accredited college or university has to go through an additional level of standards before being accredited. As such, not all nationally accredited credits will be accepted by regionally accredited schools, and therefore, their credits may not be accepted for transfer.

Be cautious of this, particularly if you are thinking about transferring schools at a later time. This is particularly true if you plan on going on to your Master’s or other advanced degrees. Regionally accredited schools that offer Master’s and Doctoral programs will very rarely accept a bachelor’s degree for admission to their program.

So, as we began this discussion, “begin with the end in mind”! What do you plan on doing with your degree? Do you just want a bachelor’s degree or do you plan on going further with your education? What are you goals? Answering these questions will help you make the right choice for you!

This link is a good visual overview of the difference between Regional and National Accreditation.  Regional vs. National Accreditation

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