Appearances can be deceiving and even though a school may claim to be accredited there are many out there that misrepresent themselves as offering quality degree programs and legitimate academic credit. In the end these types of so called "accredited" schools will require you to pay a hefty tuition bill and in return you will receive a degree that has little educational value. Even though a school claims to be accredited, watch out for those that offer little information as to what agency granted them that status. Upon taking a closer look, you may get the feeling that the accrediting association listed isn't so legitimate after all or even worse that it doesn't actually exist. The more you know about accreditation the better you will be able to protect yourself and determine the trustworthiness of your school's accreditation.

First of all, reputable online schools are often accredited by the same associations that traditional campus universities are, all of which are trustworthy given their high standards. Regional accrediting associations grant accreditation to academically-oriented schools that are located within their designated region. National accrediting organizations grant accreditation to schools that focus on a specific area of education, including career, technical, or vocational programs. The majority of schools they accredit are for-profit and non-degree granting. Specialized accrediting associations accredit schools nation-wide, specifically programs and single purpose schools within a specialized area. Often this means accrediting a program within a school that is accredited institutionally by a regional association. The U.S. Department of Education lists six recognized regional associations and five national general associations, as well as numerous specialized accrediting associations which fall into the following categories: arts and humanities; education training; legal; community and social; services; personal care and services; and healthcare.

Second, just because a school has received accreditation from an association at one time, does not mean that it currently possesses that accreditation status. Remember, there is no such thing as "once accredited, always accredited" as schools must work to maintain it by going through the review process every few years. The process ensures that programs and institutional practices are kept current and up to standard. Information on when a school was granted accreditation and what the current status of that accreditation will typically be listed on the accreditation association's Web site.

A status is classified as "pre-accreditation" means that the school or program is currently in the process of attaining accreditation and it likely to become fully accredited in the near future. If you see the term "resigned" the school or program has voluntarily decided to withdraw its accreditation status and is not longer recognized as being accredited by that association. On the other hand, "termination" means that the association itself chose to no longer accredit that school or program, this is usually because the association believes that the academic institution no longer meets the minimum requirements for accreditation or did not take the measures necessary to correct a significant problem. However, if the status is classified as on "probation," this does not mean that accreditation have been terminated but that the association believes the school or program to be in noncompliance with standards and requirements. An association will issue a warning for the problem to be fixed and give institutions a certain amount of time to correct their mistakes in order to have full accreditation restored.

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