You probably already know that, before enrolling in an online program, you should make sure it’s accredited. If you don’t, you could end up paying for a worthless degree. But there are over 61 accreditation organizations recognized in the United States, and, aside from knowing that we need an accredited degree, no one knows much else about what these agencies actually do.
The process is so complicated that it can be hard to know what accreditation even is, let alone when it’s legitimate. Fortunately, many of the misconceptions about accreditation are easily cleared up with a bit more information. Here are three of the biggest myths about college accreditation in the U.S. and what you need to know to get your facts straight.
1. The Government Regulates Accreditation
This is probably the biggest misconception about accreditation. Actually, in the U.S., accreditation is an independent process that was started by academic institutions as a way to set common standards for quality. The only part the federal government plays in accreditation is keeping track of it and publishing a list of accrediting agencies that are credible (the list is published here by the U.S. Department of Education). This is done so all citizens have the opportunity to check one trustworthy source to make sure their school of choice is appropriately accredited, not because the government decides which agencies are credible. But, if your school is accredited by an agency on the list, your degree will be legitimate.
2. All Accreditation Agencies Are the Same
The assumption that all accreditation agencies are the same is another common myth, and it can get innocent students in trouble. It is hugely important to make sure your school of choice is on the list of recognized accrediting agencies provided by the Department of Education. Even though the government doesn’t regulate accreditation, it follows the recommendations of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is the national organization for voluntary self-regulation in education. CHEA was created by academic institutions so they could have a way to implement some oversight on accrediting agencies and make sure they were all maintaining the same evaluation standards. So, if CHEA accepts an accrediting body, then the Department of Education will include that accrediting body on its list. Any agency that is not approved by CHEA is not actually accredited in the United States, and any degree you receive will not be valid. When people talk about diploma mills, this is what they mean.
3. You Don’t Need Accreditation
Another myth about accreditation is the idea that it doesn’t really matter whether your school is accredited or not. Students think that most employers don’t do background checks on schools to make sure they are accredited by a CHEA-approved agency, but, even though this may be true for many employers, as soon as an employer realizes that your degree is not accredited, you may have difficulty keeping your position or finding a new one. Also, and most importantly, a non-accredited degree is worthless within the academic community. You won’t be able to transfer any of the credits you earned to another institution, and your degree will not be recognized by any other colleges or universities.