Accreditation of colleges, universities and educational programs in the United States can be a very lengthy and complicated process. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), there are more than 61 accreditation organizations recognized in the United States. This means that schools have the option to become accredited by a variety of groups, and it can be difficult for students and parents to determine what accreditation really means, which organizations are credible and how all of this is regulated. Fortunately, with a little more information about the process, many of the myths and misunderstandings about education accreditation can be corrected.

One of the main misconceptions about accreditation is that it is regulated by the federal government. The central governments of most countries in the world do oversee the accreditation of their colleges and programs. However, in the United States, accreditation is a nongovernmental, independent, nonprofit process. The only role the federal government plays in accreditation is to recognize accreditation groups that are widely held to be credible and keep track of which schools and programs have been accredited by them. This way, people have a means to access trustworthy information about accreditation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. secretary of Education is required by law to keep track of and publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting organizations that have shown to be reliable, credible and of high standards.

The second most common myth is that all accreditation organizations are the same. There is a huge difference between an accreditation group that is recognized by the federal government, through CHEA, and one that is not. If a school is accredited by a group that does not meet federally accepted standards, that college is not technically accredited. So, it's very important to make sure that your school of choice is accredited by a group listed by the CHEA or U.S. Department of Education if you want your degree to be accredited. Also, within nationally recognized accreditation organizations, there are regional and national ones. Regional accreditation is given to schools that are standard degree-granting institutions. National accreditation focuses on specialized schools, such as ones that are technology focused. National and regional accreditation are equal in importance.

Another common assumption about accreditation is that it doesn't even matter, and that employers will not actually check to see whether your school is accredited. This could not be further from the truth. Accreditation is very, very important. If you attend a school that is not accredited, the credits you earn there will not be transferable to a different school. In a sense, this means that your credits will, technically, mean nothing to an accredited school. Also, to apply for a graduate program, your bachelor's degree must have been earned at an accredited institution. It is the same when it comes to seeking work. Not all employers will do research on the degree you've earned, but if you went to a school that they don't recognize (which would probably be the case with an unaccredited school), they will most likely Google the college name and quickly discover that it's not accredited. This has the potential to affect you negatively. There is nothing wrong with attending a school that is not accredited so long as you understand that you will not be able to use any degree or credits earned there in a traditional way.

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