Overview of the Types of Accreditation
Accreditation can be considered a license that a school earns by meeting a certain set of criteria, similar to a psychology professional earning a license by meeting a seperate set of criteria. Accreditation is an important part of the US higher education system, because it is one of the few mechanisms by which third party organizations can effectively monitor a degree program or a school and ensure that students who are paying thousands of dollars to an institution are getting a quality education. The standards that schools have to meet to earn accreditation depend on which board they are applying for accreditation through- be it regional or specialized- and what types of programs they offer. However, in general, a program must cover certain topics through their curriculum, provide students with appropriate resources through libraries and faculty, and possibly even provide certain non-academic services.
It is important for schools to maintain their accreditation, and important for students to ensure that the schools to which they are applying are accredited, because only accredited schools can use federal money. This means that only accredited schools can provide students with federal student loans, work study, or federal grants, and the majority of post-secondary students utilize these resources. Plus, only degrees earned at accredited schools are recognized by employers or by other schools, in most cases.
There are six regional accrediting boards in the United States. Together, these six boards cover all fifty states, as well as the Puerto Rico, the minor outlying islands, and the District of Columbia. The boards are: The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The vast majority of schools are accredited by regional accrediting boards, and a school that is accepted by one board is nearly always accepted by another board. This means that a person who completes his or her education at a regionally accredited school in California should be accepted at a regionally accredited school in New Jersey.
There are many schools, and individual programs within schools, that are accredited by specialty boards. For example, the American Bar Association accredits law schools. The American Dance Association accredits schools of dance. And the American Board of Professional Psychologists has its own school accrediting boards to monitor graduate degree programs in psychology. All schools' accreditation statuses can be checked at the Department of Education's website. (DOE)