Accredited School Information
Everything you wanted to know about Accreditation and more. Generally, accreditation is the process by which a facility becomes officially certified as providing services of a reasonably good quality, so that the public can trust in the quality of its services.
In the United States, the term is most often used with reference to schools and hospitals, neither of which are directly certified by the federal government. Instead, because of the long tradition of libertarianism in the U.S., accreditation is performed by private nonprofit bodies known as accreditors.
In contrast, in other countries, higher education institutions must receive the permission of the government to operate, and thus accreditation is performed by the government. For example, in Australia, higher education providers generally need approval of the federal or state governments (or a non-government body to whom this power has been delegated), or an Act of Parliament, depending on the nature of the institution. This system differs in that unaccredited institutions are often illegal, and thus diploma mills are much less of a problem in these countries.
Accreditation of schools in the U.S.
Therefore, educational accreditation has traditionally been done in the U.S. by private accreditors. These are formed, funded, and operated by their members; obviously this puts them in an uneasy balance between maintaining the public's trust and not kicking out too many of their poorly performing members (who are also their source of revenue). They are not government agencies, although they often appear to have quasi-governmental powers to the extent that their blessing can make a postsecondary school's students eligible for federal student aid.
In addition, under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit.
Today, there are two major types of accreditors: regional and national -- in spite of its name, the list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies includes both types.
Because of their size, prolonged existence, and visibility, the regional accreditors have the strongest credibility of any accreditor with each other, private employers, and the federal and state governments. People graduating or earning credit from any regionally accredited school usually have little difficulty having their degrees or units recognized at other regionally accredited schools. Of course, that assumes they can meet the other school's admission requirements, if it has a selective admission policy.
There are many other national accreditors out there, which are too numerous to list here. These are usually formed by vocational or trade schools whose admission requirements and curricula are not stringent enough to qualify them for membership in the regional accreditation organizations. The result is that most regionally accredited schools will not accept transfer credit from most nationally accredited schools. A few unsophisticated students enroll in vocational schools every year without understanding this important distinction, and are horrified when they discover that their units are non-transferable (after they have racked up thousands of dollars in student loan debt).
Despite the credit transfer problem, many national accreditation organizations for vocational schools are legitimate and the certificates or degrees issued by their members are generally considered to be a bona fide prerequisite for working in certain fields.
However, every year, one sees the occasional diploma mill (where both the student and the proprietor know the student is buying fraudulent academic credentials) or scam (where the student is not aware of the fraud), where the "accreditor" is a post office box or Web page owned by the proprietor of the school.
Prospective vocational students should carefully research the credentials they will need to work in their chosen vocation, and find out which organization is considered by employers to be the legitimate accreditor for that field. By the time the student discovers their selected school and its accreditor are a scam, the proprietor may have signed up the hapless student for gigantic student loans. At that point, the student may have few legal options available. Student loans usually cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, it is extremely difficult to arrange for the forgiveness of student loan debt, and few attorneys specialize in such matters.
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