Welcome to Part II of our four-part Career Bootcamp series, your guide to transitioning from service to student. It will help to read Part I before reading this post.
Now that you’ve thought long-term and determined what you wanted to do when you leave the service (Step 1) and determined the education and/or credentials you need to achieve that goal (Step 2), it’s time dive deeper into Step 3: “Research schools that offer the education and credentials you need.” As mentioned in Part I, this step is so important that it deserves its own post.
There are more than 4,500 two- and four-year postsecondary institutions offering degree programs. The majority of their offerings are very similar, so trying to determine which one is best for you may seem impossible. One of the knowledge sets that will help you: an understanding of accreditation. Determining the accreditation level of a school can narrow your research further and make this step more manageable. Within the academic world, accreditation is not taken lightly, and you should not take it lightly either when selecting a college or university from which to earn your degree. Here are answers to important questions on the topic that will help you select the best school based on its accreditation.
What is accreditation?
Basically, accreditation is a measure of the quality of the overall educational experience students can expect at a given institution.
Why is it important?
If the college or university you are researching is not accredited, the degree, certificate, or credential that you earn, whether you use your own money, use your service-provided tuition assistance program, or use your GI Bill benefit, is not worth the paper it is printed on! This is also true if the college or university you are attending loses its accreditation while you are attending.
What’s the difference between national and regional accreditation?
In the United States, there are two main types of accreditation: national and regional.
As a minimum, the school that you select to earn your degree from or even just to take a few courses with should be nationally accredited by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). This means, as a minimum, the institution is able to receive Title IV Federal Financial Aid for their students. A college that is nationally accredited will be accredited by any one of dozens of national accrediting organizations. Some of the more popular examples of national accrediting institutions: Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training.
One of the biggest misconceptions I see in working with military-related students is the belief that a national accreditation is a stronger or better accreditation than a regional one. This is often not the case. In fact, because of their close proximity to the colleges they accredit, regional accrediting bodies have and maintain very high standards, and in many cases, their standards are much higher than those of national accrediting bodies.
Colleges and universities “volunteer” to undergo a regional accreditation process. The initial accreditation is normally temporary or probationary. The regional accrediting commissions grant accreditation to participating colleges and universities based on a set of standards that are established by each accrediting commission. Not every college or university seeks to become regionally accredited. Why? The reasons are simple: The standards are high and hard to achieve and maintain. (For a good visual overview of the difference between regional and national accreditation, click here.) Traditionally, regional accreditation will last for a 10-year period, unless the college or university is only “conditionally accredited.”
Colleges and universities seeking regional accreditation will be accredited by one of the following seven regional accrediting bodies, based on geographic location:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE);
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE);
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools The Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HCL);
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU);
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS);
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (WASC-ACCJC);
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-ACSCU).
Does accreditation matter if I plan on transferring credits?
Accreditation plays into the transferability of college credits earned with one institution that are accepted by another. As a general rule of thumb, any credits earned from a regionally accredited college or university will be accepted by any other regionally or nationally accredited institution. However, credits earned from a nationally accredited college or university may or may not be accepted by a regionally accredited institution.
Be cautious of this, particularly if you are thinking about transferring schools at a later time. This is particularly true if you plan on going on to your master’s or other advanced degrees. Regionally accredited schools that offer master’s and doctoral programs will very rarely accept a bachelor’s degree from a nationally accredited institution for admission to their program.