One of the most important things about an online degree program is that it is accredited. Accreditation is a way to assure students that they are enrolling in a quality program that meets high standards and educational guidelines. Knowing about the process of accreditation will help you avoid “diploma mills” who give out academic degrees that have little to no academic value and are not recognized by reputable accrediting agencies. One of the purposes of accreditation is to protect the student and make sure that they are not only receiving a legitimate education but a recognized one. Before you choose to enroll in an online degree program, research the institution to make sure that the program has been evaluated by one of these agencies and passed their standards.
Colleges must go through a lengthy accreditation process where their programs are evaluated by a third party, usually an accrediting association, who determine whether or not their curriculum and training meet specific educational standards. While the process differs from one agency to the next, it generally includes intuitional examination, peer reviews, visits by the accrediting council, and program critiques and decisions. After an institution receives accreditation they have to maintain it by being reviewed every few years to make sure their programs are kept up to standard and up to date. Just because a school is accredited does not mean it is accredited by a reputable agency. Reputable higher education programs in the United States can be accredited by two types of associations, national accrediting associations or regionally accrediting associations.
Whether a program is accredited through a national or regional association depends on the nature of the program. National accrediting associations typically accredit schools nationwide that have career, technical, or vocational programs. Standards for these types of programs depend of specialty and may result in a degree or a certificate. The Department of Education lists five of these general associations; Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, and Council on Occupational Education. Regional accrediting associations typically accredit schools that are academically oriented. These institutions, depending on which region they fall into, are generally accredited through one of six associations; the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Commission of Schools and Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.