BLOG: All Things Higher Ed

Accreditation matters in higher ed: Here’s why

As you navigate the landscape of higher education, one word likely keeps coming up in your research and reading: accreditation.

Why do colleges go out of their way to tout their accreditation? Is it really such a big deal?

Yes, it is. Central Michigan University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), but that doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a significant investment of time and resources — not to mention an ongoing commitment to rigorous standards — to become an accredited institution.

In addition to beign accredited by the HLC, Central Michigan University also has many programs that are accredited or have been nationally recognized.

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Here’s why accreditation matters so much in higher ed — and why you should choose an institution with the right accreditation.

What does accredited mean for colleges?

The US Department of Education explains the goal of accreditation for all US-based colleges and universities.

“To ensure that institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of quality.”

That goal sounds simple enough, but the execution can get slightly complicated.

Accreditation, whether at the institutional level or for a specific academic program, means that the accredited entity meets the measurable, defined standards and metrics of the accrediting body.

While we always recommend that prospective students look closely at a college’s programs and outcomes before enrolling, accreditation serves as a kind of baseline. It suggests an institution is legitimate and upholds high standards for its academic programs.

Types of accreditation

It’s common to talk about accreditation as a single thing (“Is the school accredited or not?”). But look a little closer and you’ll discover that there are numerous accrediting agencies and types of accreditations. Not all of these are equally valuable or rigorous, so it’s important to know not just that a school or program is accredited but which type of accreditation they have earned.

There are two primary types of accreditation you should look for: institutional and programmatic.

Institutional accreditation

Institutional accreditation evaluates the entire school, giving a broad endorsement of the institution’s overarching practices, standards and outcomes.

There are (or were) two subcategories within institutional accreditation: regional and national. Historically, regional accreditation has been more rigorous and thus more valuable to obtain. For example, in some professions, you’ll see “bachelor’s (or master’s) degree from a regionally accredited university” as an employment requirement.

National accrediting bodies tend to have looser quality standards or are highly specific (such as religious national accreditors or those focused on trade and vocational schools). That said, recent rule changes have blurred the lines, as an institution can seek accreditation from a regional accreditor even if it’s located in another region.

Programmatic accreditation

Certain academic programs can be independently evaluated for program-specific accreditation. This is common in nursing, pharmacy, and other medical and pre-medical programs, as well as engineering and technology.

Programmatic accreditation is evaluated separately from institutional accreditation. For example it’s possible for an accredited college to fail ACEN (nursing program) accreditation or (much less commonly) vice versa.

If you’re considering a program where this kind of accreditation exists, you may find job listings that require a degree with the relevant accreditation.

Benefits of accreditation

Why does accreditation matter so much? Consider these five benefits of accreditation that both future and current students can enjoy.

Assurance of program quality and credibility

As we’ve been hinting at already, accreditation is a sort of stamp of approval. It’s an assurance that the institution or the program (or both) meets a defined standard of quality. It also lends credibility to the program or institution: the US Department of Education does not employ stringent quality controls in higher education, so having an independent endorsement provides a crucial level of credibility.

Eligibility for financial aid and scholarships

Donors and funders of scholarships want to know if their dollars are going to legitimate institutions offering quality education and opportunity to their students.

Many private and virtually all public financial aid and scholarships are restricted to schools that maintain accreditation, often with regional accreditation required (as well as programmatic where applicable).

So as a student, to be eligible for the highest levels of financial aid and scholarships, you want to choose an accredited school.

Transferability of credits

Many of today’s students have already earned some college credits, whether as transfer students or from previously earned degrees. It’s possible to pick up your education at a different school than where you started, but one issue can get in the way: the ability to transfer credits.

Not every class at every college has a correlating class at every other college. Your new college may deny certain credits from certain institutions due to a lack of quality or relevance. Accreditation increases the number of transferable credits because it ensures a certain level of quality and compatibility between schools.

Professional licensure and certification

Some fields require professional licensure or certifications that are obtained only after completing a required degree. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam is a classic example: most practicing accountants with a bachelor’s in accounting must take significant additional coursework before they’re even eligible to sit for the CPA exam.

Here again, many of these licenses, certifications, and professional exams have a prerequisite: you must hold a relevant degree from an accredited institution of higher learning.

Employer recognition and job opportunities

As we’ve alluded to, some employers include “a ___ degree in ___ or related fields from a regionally accredited university” as a job requirement. This is common in higher ed and other fields where an advanced degree is required.

In other words, an accredited degree may literally be a requirement to get a job, depending on the employer and the industry.

Risks of not having an accredited degree program

These benefits ought to be quite compelling, but what do you risk if you earn your degree from an unaccredited school or program?

Lack of recognition and reputation

Even if your employer doesn’t require accreditation (or even if you manage to qualify for an exception to that requirement), it’s just a reality that some will look at your unaccredited degree as a mark against your reputation. Your work may speak for itself, but if your degree is unaccredited, it does not carry the same weight as a degree from an accredited institution such as Central Michigan University.

Difficulty in transferring credits

As we mentioned earlier, an unaccredited school creates complications with transferring credits. This is most often a problem for students who want to transfer credits from an unaccredited institution to a degree program at an accredited school.

Without an independent measure of quality, the admissions officer or provost of your new school may have no way to verify that what you’ve learned is equivalent to your new school’s version of a course. And without accreditation, there’s a greater likelihood of course mismatches—courses that don’t neatly fill the requirements of a specific course in the accredited program.

Potential impact on professional licensure

If you’re pursuing a career path that involves post-graduation professional licensure or certification, an unaccredited degree creates an unnecessary obstacle. Many licensing and certifying organizations rely on accreditation to guarantee a minimum level of quality. Even if your unaccredited degree is of similar quality, you may not be able to convince a person with decision-making authority to evaluate your degree program.

While exceptions are possible, they’re called exceptions for a reason. For the smoothest path to professional licensure, choose an accredited program from the outset.

How to verify the accreditation of a school or program

If you’re concerned about a school or program’s accreditation status, take these steps to verify.

  1. Ask your advisor: A school’s advisor can tell you which types of accreditations the school and program hold.
  2. Visit the school website: Reputable colleges will transparently share their accreditation information. See Central Michigan University’s accreditation and licensure information.
  3. Research online databases: Many accrediting bodies keep a public database of accredited schools and programs.
  4. Contact accrediting agencies: You can usually contact a representative at an accrediting agency to verify a school’s claim.

Earn your accredited degree at Central Michigan University

In the world of higher education, accreditation matters. If you’re considering college for the first time or finishing a degree you’ve already started, Central Michigan University is an accredited institution worth considering. Get started by contacting admissions today. 

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