Why Is Accreditation Important for Online Schools and Colleges
Accreditation is the process of recognizing or approving an institution for maintaining the minimum quality standards. This process improves the institution’s overall credibility of meeting the right standards, which in turn adds more value to it.
Clearly, accreditation is on the top of any institution’s priority list. Because it assures the student/parent community about the advantages of the respective institution. And the academic credentials or credits earned through such institutions are more usable (and legitimate) for post-secondary education and even for job seekers.
For online high schools and universities, the accreditation is of even more importance as virtual institutions are not deemed trustworthy without it. Accrediting agencies serve as a verification entity for the legitimacy and dependability of these virtual institutions.
Let’s take you through some details of this process before we discuss its importance for institutions.
Accreditation is a process to keep a check on the quality of education. It helps stakeholders distinguish between credible and poorly performing institutions.
This process is carried out by accrediting agencies. Institutions are accredited by accrediting bodies, fully authorized to evaluate them on pre-defined standards.
More About Accreditors
Accreditors or accrediting agencies are non-governmental organizations that carry out the purpose of reviewing the quality of programs or institutions. A list of these authorized agencies is available on the official website of the US ministry of Education and CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). For the details of accrediting agencies authorized for the quality assurance process outside the US, a separate list is available in the ‘CHEA International Directory’.
How Do These Agencies Operate?
For quality assurance, accrediting agencies establish standards upon which the institution is accredited. Most of these agencies have more or less similar standards. And institutions are expected to provide the information for the review. Review can be in the form of self-study by the institution or through an on-site visit. This process often includes curriculum, faculty, support, student achievement conflicts of interests, etc.
The final judgment is based on the standards laid by the agency. In addition, the agency might also include higher education faculty, practitioners in specific fields, and members appointed to the decision-making body.
The final information is then made public by the accrediting agencies. And the stakeholders can access this information through the same sources (CHEA and the Ministry’s official website).
Types of Accreditation (Recognized by the Secretary of Education)
Institutional– The entire institution is accredited.
Specialized– Applies to certain programs, departments, or schools that are a part of an institution.
Regionally and National Accreditation
Regional accrediting commissions do not review specific programs within an institution. Instead, they review the entire institution.
Students must check the type of accreditation that an institution bears. Because the credits earned from a nationally accredited institution might not be accepted in a regionally accredited institution.
Let’s understand why this process is considered so important for online schools and colleges.
Top Reasons Why Accreditation is Important for Online Institutions:
As per the US Ministry of Education, the total number of schools (both public and private) was 134,960 by the year 2020. This number was 5,999 for post-secondary institutions.
In the absence of a common and clear framework, it is impossible to maintain the desired quality and structure across these many institutions. The process of accreditation is helpful for institutions to identify the desirable standards and meet the necessary requirements.
As an ongoing process, accreditation also helps in reviewing the standards of institutions periodically. This helps the institution to gauge if the facilities provided to students are as per the offered programs. In a nutshell, this quality check process keeps the institution determined to work towards constant improvement.
Other than the quality aspects, this process also helps institutions to provide equitable learning opportunities to all types of students. In this way, this process supports the students, by helping the institutions to measure the quality and accessibility of the program/courses.
2. Identifying Loopholes
It is not easy to win the trust of the stakeholders and students. In fact, an institution must stay focused on the goals of continuous improvement to uphold its quality of delivering well-rounded education. By identifying the loopholes, and working towards improvement, institutions improve their public accountability. This process scrutinizes various aspects of the institution. And eventually, this helps improve its overall operational efficiency.
By meeting the minimum threshold standards, online schools and colleges can address any issue whatsoever through the expert handholding of accreditors. This makes the institution more stable and student-friendly. And also improves their overall enrollment rates.
3. Legitimacy and Reputation
The acceptance of one’s degree/diploma/academic credential is subject to its legitimacy. And in this way, it is directly related to the institution’s reputation. Accredited schools and colleges are reputed and have an edge over non-accredited ones. Because the academic credential awarded by these institutions are easily accepted by other academic institutions and employers.
The quality and reputation of an accredited institution are the biggest highlights that attract prospective students. An accredited institution undergoes this quality check process several times. This continuous and rigorous accreditation process ensures that the needs of the students and stakeholders are fulfilled. In this competitive world, several employers take the institution’s accreditation into consideration. And they validate the institution’s accreditation before shortlisting an employee.
4. Acceptance and Credit Transfer
For online schools and colleges, accreditation adds value to the programs offered. In the present times, the reputation of an accredited online institution is at par with the ones that offer similar on-campus programs. Because the accrediting agencies hold online programs to the same standards as determined for in-campus institutions.
Even when it comes to credit transfer, accreditation plays a vital role. Credits earned through an accredited institution are easily acceptable by other schools. However, it is still better to check the acceptance of credits beforehand with the institution.
5. Options for Financial Aid
Choosing an accredited online school or college also helps students to qualify for financial aid. Because these institutions meet the required quality standards. Similarly, the difference between an accredited and a non-accredited institution also matters at the time when students attend certain examinations/certifications. Without proper accreditation, a student can be denied certain examinations basis the discretion of the institution conducting the particular examination.
Accreditation is imperative for institutions to set the benchmark standards and keep a check on adherence part.
Considering its importance in the legitimacy and acceptance of one’s credentials, it is always advisable to check a valid accreditation before enrolling in an online program/course (online school or college). Other than this, you must also cross-check the legitimacy of the accrediting agency before you select your program/course (on the US Ministry’s website or CHEA). Because many fake accrediting agencies/diploma mills/accreditation mills are also operating within the system.
Consider the right online school or college to realize your dream of quality education!
And take every effort to identify the right institution to earn credits that are 100% usable!