Online School Accreditation
The importance of online school accreditation is reflected in how readily a degree is accepted as valid by another school or employer. When an online college or university offers programs that have been accredited by regional and/or national education accrediting agencies, this indicates that an in-depth, rigorous review of the schools policies, administrative practices, instructor qualifications and course curriculum has been conducted and has been found to meet or exceed a set of criteria established by these accrediting agencies.
Designed to safeguard students against the unscrupulous practices of fraudulent “diploma mills” that simply offer degrees and/or junk classes in exchange for a lump sum of money, online school accreditation assures that degrees earned online are valid and recognized by other higher learning institutions as well as employers. Students who elect to take classes from unaccredited schools because the school promises a cheap degree in two weeks or less will not receive a bona fide degree that has been validated by the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, they will have wasted their time and money on something that is essentially worthless.
When searching for an online school in which to enroll, beware of distance learning websites that include such words and/or phrases like “chartered”, “authorized”, “registered”, “licensed” or “pursuing accreditation” in describing their school. You should always conduct a more in-depth investigation concerning the status of a college or university’s online school accreditation if you spot these words in an online school’s self-description.
How to Check an Online School’s Accreditation Standing
Legitimate online schools will post their credentials directly on their website, how long they have been offering online classes and numerous ways (email, telephone, fax number, physical address) to get in contact with the schools administration departments. Beware of so-called online colleges and universities purporting to have online school accreditation but fail to specifically cite references to this validation anywhere on their website.
Accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Distance Education Training Council (DETC) that advocate online schools offering legitimate degrees are categorized as regional or national accrediting agencies. The regional accrediting agencies include:
1. North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement
Traditional and online schools accredited by this commission are located in the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Visit the website at http://www.ncacasi.org/.
2. Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Traditional and online schools accredited by this commission are located in the following states and U.S territories: California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Northern Marianas and the Marshall Islands. Visit the website at: http://www.wascweb.org/.
3. New England Association of Schools and Colleges
Traditional and online schools accredited by this regional commission are located in the following states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
4. Southern Association of Schools and Colleges
Traditional and online schools accredited by this regional commission are located in the following states and U.S. territories: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Latin America. Visit the website at: http://www.sacs.org/.
5. Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
Traditional and online schools accredited by this regional commission are located in the following states: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
6. Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
Traditional and online schools accredited by this regional commission are located in the following states as well as U. S. territories and other areas: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Central America and the Middle East. Visit the website at: http://www.msche.org/.
This helpful chart (Accreditating Commission Chart )of recognized accrediting organization (current as of September of 2012) lists all accreditors that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education has recognized and verified.
What is the Distance Education Training Council?
Headquartered in Washington, D. C, the DETC has been promoting high standards of education for over 80 years for both “brick and mortar” and distance learning courses. Members of the commission practice dedication to protecting students’ rights, to evaluating education institutional practices and to implementing improvements where mandated by a panel of voluntary peer assessments.
According to the DETC’s website, the core values of this commission are:
- Transparency and fairness of decision -making
- Respect for the uniqueness of educational institutions
- Continued excellence in the area of student support and services
- Self-regulation and volunteerism
- Providing rapid responses to the global and dynamic distance education community
Additionally, the Distance Education Training Council provides a “speciality” website for corporate partners and employers ( Corporate DETC Website) as well as a website for members of the U.S. military (Military DETC Website).
The Process of Accreditation
The process of online school accreditation is a voluntary one, initiated by the online school rather than mandated by a regional or national accrediting commission. Online schools must prove the following in order to receive accreditation by a recognized agency:
- Excellent academic quality
- Financial integrity and stability
- Proper credentials for all faculty members
- Exceptional features comprising student support services
- Proof of continuous improvement in all aspects of the school’s departments
What You Should Know About Diploma Mills
Any distance learning college or university that does not have proper online school accreditation might be considered a “diploma mill”, or a business purporting to be a legitimate higher learning institution offering valid certifications and degrees when, in fact, that have no value whatsoever. Characteristics of a degree, or diploma mill include lack of a physical address (P.O. box or “suite” number” instead), having minimal interaction with instructors or administrators that are difficult to access, offering so-called degrees that can be obtained within a several weeks or months and a home page that is odd-looking due to spelling and grammatical errors, stilted language and pictures of “sample” degrees.
Unless the school is a well-known and established online college or university with a student body numbering in the thousands, those interested in earning a degree online should make it a point to check the online school accreditation status of a distance learning institution before paying any tuition or textbook fees.