The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality, according to the U.S. Department of Education on accreditation in the United States. It is used as a tool to monitor, assess, and improve the quality of education that learning institutions, colleges, and universities offer students. Accreditation is entirely voluntary and dependent on the school's governing body, but is important in schools because it assures students in higher learning that the education they are paying to receive is valuable and worthy of their time. Pursuing a school or institution that is accredited gives students and their parents the confidence in putting their money and trust into that school.
Schools need to be accredited because they ensure that a learning institution is providing at least the minimal standards of quality, and they help students determine which universities are an acceptable means of education. Accreditation also creates goals for learning institutions to continually evaluate themselves and strive for self-improvement. Universities that are accredited strive to keep up their reputation and to continue to improve their systems because accreditation standards are constantly changing and accreditation must be renewed at set periods of time, such as every 5 or 10 years. The renewal process requires schools to be updated with changes, so it is possible for a learning institution to lose accreditation at a later date if that school does not meet accreditation criteria. Accreditation also determines the acceptability of transfer credits for those students that it applies to.
Accreditation is also a way to ensure employers that students actually earned an education and their degree by completing their coursework and classes and earning their grades, rather than just paying some institution or organization to receive a degree. Many employers review the educational history of applicants and potential employees to ensure that they are qualified for the position and that their degree came from a college or university that is accredited. Having a degree or certificate that was granted by an institution or training program that is not accredited is likely to hurt chances of employment. Employers want to feel confident in the people that they choose to hire and possessing a degree from a learning institution that is not accredited may make it hard for potential employers to believe that those candidates are trustworthy and hardworking. In addition, many states require that colleges, universities, and programs are accredited when allowing students to acquire state licensure for certain programs, careers, and the like.
In order to gain accreditation, a learning institution must volunteer to have their institution and overall educational quality evaluated and appraised through self-evaluation and objective appraisal by peers, according to the ACICS, or Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. In order to gain the status of accredited, the institution must comply with rigorous standards and create and implement an Institutional Effectiveness Plan. The institution must also be subjected to annual reviews of financial stability, retention and placement rates, and be subjected and evaluated on both planned and unplanned visits, according to their site.