Completing a degree can be time consuming, expensive and challenging. You want to make sure your time, energy and efforts are recognized, and your academic credits are transferable to another institution if you must relocate. Getting your degree or certificate from an accredited institution increases your credibility when you apply for employment or a license.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the recognition that an educational institution and its programs meet acceptable levels of quality, which are set by independent bodies called accrediting agencies. During the accreditation process, an agency evaluates the faculty and staff credentials, program curricula, financial stability and the learning environment. If the institution meets the agency's standards, the agency grants the institution an accredited status.
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes two types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation agencies grant approval to both brick-and-mortar and online schools. National accreditation is granted generally to distance learning schools throughout the country. Note that accreditation agencies can grant two kinds of accreditation: institutional, which applies to an entire institution; and specialized or programmatic, which applies to specific programs, departments or schools within the institution.
The U.S. Department of Education lists accrediting agencies that specialize in different career fields, which may help narrow your search. For example, if you choose an occupation in a health, education or other related career field, popular among military spouses, look for some of the following accreditation agencies:
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education
- Teacher Education Accreditation Council
- Distance Education and Training Council
Visit the U.S. Department of Education website for a full list of specialized accrediting agencies and find the agency for your specialty field.
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies created the first set of standards for professional certification programs in the mid-1970s. Today, NCCA accredits more than 330 programs from more than 130 organizations, certifying individuals in a wide range of professions and occupations.
Why is accreditation important?
The U.S. Department of Education does not accredit educational institutions and/or programs. However, the Secretary of Education publishes a list of nationally and regionally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit. The U.S. Department of Education works mostly with accredited schools to offer federal student aid programs. Many state education agencies have the same policy.
Attending an accredited institution may increase your chances of gaining admission to other institutions, should you wish to earn a postgraduate degree. School accreditation is also important if you must transfer your credits. It is a prerequisite for many higher-level programs.
When you complete your education from an accredited institution, your credentials will be more marketable to employers, and you will have met the standards for your career field licensure or certification.
Identifying accredited institutions
To determine a school's accreditation, use the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation search. If you are interested in the accreditation status of a specific school, search by the institution's name for its accreditation history. Schools with multiple campuses will have listings for each campus. If you are just starting your search, a query by state will provide a list of all accredited institutions within that state.
For more information on selecting a school or program, visit the College Exploration section of the Education, Training and Licensing lifecycle stage of MySECO. You can also speak with a SECO career coach by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. For additional guidance, use the Live Chat feature on the MySECO website.