When looking for a suitable college or university you are sometimes recommended to check the schools accreditation, it sounds like a good idea, but what exactly does an acceedited status mean? You could simply describe it as a quality insurance process performed by an outer body to determine if the school meets the right standards. If so is the case the school will be granted accredited status.
In most parts of the world, this quality insurance process is conducted by a government organization. In the US however, the educational accreditation is performed by private membership organizations. This text will explain all you need to know about both of these as well as what accreditation really means to you as a prospective student.
Accreditation in the US
In the US an accredited status has nothing to do with the authority to operate but is merely a way to describe ensure a basic level of quality of the educational institute. The accreditation process in the US arose from an idea of peer evaluation, thus the process is conducted by non-governmental associations. It is a voluntary process designated by an accrediting agency. There are 6 regional accrediting agencies which are the most trusted in the US: NEASC, NCA, MSA, SACS, WASC, and NWCCU.
An institute can gain accredited status for the whole institute (institutional accreditation), which does not indicate that all departments of the institute hold the same level of quality but that they contribute to the accredited standars of the whole institute. Accredited standard can also be given to a specific program or department within an institution (specialized-/programmatic accreditation).
Accreditation exists to: Varify that an institution or program meets basic level standards; Help you as a prospective student in choosing an acceptable place for tour studies; And assists institutions in determining the acceptability of transfer credits. The accreditation procedure in the US is conducted in 5 steps:
The institution or program itself prepares a study that evaluates if it measures the standards of accreditation.
- On-site Evaluation
A team selected by the accrediting agency visit the institute or program for an on-site evaluation.
If the institution or program does meet the standards it will be officially published as an institution of program with accredited status.
Accreditation Outside the US
In many other parts of the world, institutions of higher education are authorized to operate by the government. In this sense the government serves as an accreditation body, authorizing only institutions that meets surtain educational standards.
A few examples of accreditation around the globe:
In Australia, higher education providers generally need approval of the federal or state governments.
In the UK it is illegal to offer a qualification that is or might seem to be UK degree unless recognised by the Secretary of State, a Royal Charter or Act of Parliament.
In India accreditation is compulsory for all universities except those created through an act of Parliament. Without accreditation the body will not be allowed to call itself a university or to award degrees as such.
In Germany all programs that grant Bachelor and Master degrees must be accredited, this is done by one of 7 certified agencies.
As you see the standards of accreditation varies a lot and the wisest thing to do is contact the school or International Office to find more specific information about accreditation in each country.
What Does This Mean to Me?
Though accreditation will tell us a lot about the levels of quality of an instutution or program it should not exclude other factors when choosing where to study. Accreditation will guarantee neither credit transfer between universities nor acceptence by a future employer.
Thus there are many factors besides accreditation to keep in mind when choosing a university or college to attend. Espacially if you have a specific career in mind, in this case it is whise to take a goos look at the aims of the program and comparing them to your goals. If you plan to study further at another institution the credit transfer issue is of high importance. Of the most importance is of course that you feel good in the university atmospher and this is not decided by anyone else but yourself.
The best way to fins out if the school you are looking at has accredited status is to contact the school, often information is to be found directly on the school´s website.