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- Start with the school’s website to find out what they list as their accreditation agency or agencies. Since schools can list accrediting agencies that are not recognized by the USDE or CHEA, or can falsely list a recognized agency, further verification is needed.
- Go to the USDE’s website search tool and enter the school’s name. The schools that match this name will appear in a list along with their locations. If there is more than one location, choose the appropriate one. If the school is accredited, a status of Accredited or Pre-accredited will be present along with the date this status became effective. Pre-accredited is a status sometimes given to schools the first time they are accredited.
- If the school is no longer accredited, the next column will show a status of “Resigned” or “Terminated” depending on whether the school voluntarily resigned its accreditation or involuntarily lost its accreditation. Voluntary resignation of accreditation may occur if the programs at the school changed and therefore a different agency was requested to grant accreditation. Many schools that have lost their accreditation will not appear at all since the database does not include older terminated accreditations.
If the school is not on the USDE list…
- It may be a specialized school that is accredited by a programmatic agency only recognized by the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) but not the USDE. These schools do not offer federal or state financial aid but have met the same quality standards as other accredited schools. Check the CHEA database to see if the school is listed there.
- If the school is not listed in either the USDE or CHEA database, it may be newly accredited and may not have been updated in the databases yet. The accrediting agency’s database should be up-to-date, so go to the agency’s website (found on either the CHEA or USDE database) and look for the school in their database.
- If all else fails, contact the school directly to see if they have any reasonable explanation for the discrepancy.
Should schools without legitimate accreditation ever be considered?
In some fields, it may be acceptable to have a degree or certificate from a school without proper accreditation. Talking to people in the field, especially those responsible for hiring, can provide some insight as to whether this will impact job prospects. The school itself may be able to give names of alumni for prospective students to contact. However, it should be kept in mind that these schools cannot offer federal or state financial aid and other colleges will not likely accept transfer credits from these schools.
Is there any difference between accreditations given by the various agencies?
Yes, there are differences to consider. The primary difference is between the six major regional accrediting agencies that most non-profit, academically-oriented, degree-granting schools use and the national accrediting agencies that are used mainly by career, vocational and technical schools. Many regionally accredited schools will not transfer credits nor accept students into graduate school if they are coming from a nationally accredited school.
Accreditation Evaluation Tips
- Some things are not what they appear – an accreditation on a school’s website may not have any value if it is not from a recognized accrediting agency.
- Plan ahead when looking at accreditations – consider whether future schooling or future jobs will be impacted by the choice of school in the near-term.
- Make the most of tuition dollars – paying tuition at a school without accreditation or the wrong type of accreditation could be throwing money down the drain.