There Are Regional Differences in Colleges Across the Country
When researching colleges, many families look only to national accreditation to decide if a college is a great school. If a school is ranked nationally, they believe it must be among the best. However, you can also check to see if the colleges you’re interested in are regionally accredited. This ranking process is overseen by six regionally based accreditation agencies.
Accreditation, whether regional or national, is a voluntary process that colleges and universities can choose to undergo to ensure that they meet a specific set of standards. Accreditation can provide increased credibility with other institutions, employers, and prospective students.
Both national and regional accreditation have their purposes. It’s a good idea to choose a college with the appropriate accreditation based on the type of degree you're pursuing.
Regional vs. National Accreditation: Does It Really Matter Anymore?
Accreditation should be an important factor when choosing a school. It lets you know that the school has been evaluated and has met certain standards. A degree from an accredited school holds more weight when you start looking for a job after college.
Accreditation can also affect what type of financial aid you receive, whether your credits will transfer if you need to switch schools, and whether some employers will hire you.
You may put more weight on national accreditation if you're exploring trade or vocational schools. This may be the right choice if you're looking to gain specific career skills without the more rigorous, all-around coursework characteristic of nonvocational schools.
How Are Colleges Accredited?
Colleges aren’t accredited through the Department of Education as people commonly believe. Instead, the DOE and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the accreditation agencies.
There are approximately 4,000 colleges in the country. Of those, 85% are regionally accredited, and 15% are nationally accredited. If you plan to go to a trade or vocational school, then you'll want to look for a nationally accredited college. For all other types of degrees, check your college's regional accreditation.
Colleges choose to go through the accreditation process because it makes them more appealing to prospective students. The college selects the accreditation agency. Each agency sets its own standards, but all agencies focus on the quality of experience and education students receive.
When you're researching accreditation, be sure to distinguish between institutional and program-based accreditation. Institutional accreditation evaluates an entire college or university. Program-based accreditation looks at just one program, such as nursing, within an institution. Both types have merit, as long as you're considering what they evaluate.
What Is National Institutional Accreditation?
Vocational, technical, and career schools use national agencies for accreditation. These agencies accredit schools all over the country.
Nationally accredited schools will typically let you transfer credits from other schools accredited by the same agency. They'll also accept credits from schools accredited by similar agencies. In some cases, they'll let you transfer credit from a regionally accredited university.
What Is Regional Institutional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation divides the country into four regions─North, South, Midwest, and West. It's sometimes divided into six regions, with New England and the Northwest becoming their own regions.
Regional accreditation works with traditional universities and colleges, typically those that are nonprofit. Regionally accredited colleges usually let you transfer credits between one another, particularly if the two colleges involved in the credit transfer are accredited by the same agency. These schools usually don't accept credits from a university with only national accreditation.
Although accreditation isn't the only factor you should consider when choosing a college, it’s an important one. Choosing a school with no accreditation is a big risk. You should choose a school with the right accreditation for your college plans and future, especially if you change colleges or go into a particular career field. With the right accreditation, your chosen school can help prepare you for the future you want.