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Accreditation: Who Needs It?

When comparing between programs, it’s important to understand the accreditation(s) that the program has received, and the standards used by that accrediting body.

Most accreditation is broken into two categories; university (regional) accreditation, and professional school accreditation.

For purposes of higher education accreditation, the United States is separated into six accrediting regions. The accreditation in each of these regions is provided by what are known as regional accrediting bodies. California Universities are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (W.A.S.C.). A university residing outside California but offering courses here will fall into one of the other accrediting regions.

It is of prime importance to you that the university you are considering be accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies. Although there are some differences between regional accrediting bodies and their assessment criteria, regional accreditation provides standards for the granting of college credit, thereby providing a framework for those students interested in transferring from one institution to another, or those who wish to move on to an advanced degree. In order to be reimbursed for educational expenses, most companies require that the school you are attending be accredited by a regional accrediting body.

In addition to regional accreditation, there are secondary bodies which accredit the strength of a particular professional school within the university, assessing the quality of the school’s curriculum, faculty, and resources. Professional accreditation is voluntary, and the importance of this distinction varies based on the strength of the professional accrediting body, and perceptions of its importance within industry. For example, whereas business school accreditation through the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (A.A.C.S.B.), the primary accrediting body for business schools, is viewed as important by some, accreditation for undergraduate engineering degrees through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (A.B.E.T.) is perceived as vital by most within engineering schools and industry.

Unlike professional school accreditation, regional accreditation covers an entire university and therefore includes the accreditation of all programs. The criteria for accreditation is based upon the school’s mission and objectives, and the quality of the resources it employs to carry out that mission. In addition, regional accrediting bodies set standards regarding full-time faculty and retainment, the quality of the learning resources, facilities, and the financial strength of the institution. Thus, a professional school belonging to a regionally accredited university would also be accredited under the regional umbrella.

Professional school accreditation, on the other hand, requires the professional school to stand on its own two feet, outside the umbrella of the University, assessing the strength of the school, its curriculum, resources, and preparedness of its graduates. In addition, professional school accreditation usually sets standards with regards to admission requirements, selection of faculty, and curriculum development.

Professional school accreditation is voluntary. Differing philosophies in the way education should be delivered is one of the primary reasons schools have chosen not to seek professional accreditation.

First look to see that the school you are considering is accredited by a regional accrediting body. Then check with people in your industry to determine the importance of various professional school accreditation bodies to determine if this additional “stamp of approval” is important or even required for acceptance within your chosen career track.