Are you looking to get out of your job and into a career? Have you decided to go back to school but are unsure about where to start? Have you looked into a few online programs but are unsure how to tell them apart?
Choosing a college is perhaps the biggest decision you will have to make as you plan for your future career. You want to make sure you get the quality education you deserve so you can be the candidate all employers want to hire. So how do you determine which schools are a better fit for you? How can you asses the quality of the education each school can provide? The first place to start is by looking at each school’s accreditation.
The federal government does not possess the authority to exercise control over postsecondary educational institutions in this country, and the states have used their limited authority to varying degrees across the country. For the most part, these educational institutions have enjoyed a tremendous amount of autonomy over the years. As a result, these institutions have varied widely in terms of the quality and consistency of their offerings.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation exists to ensure that the education provided by an institution of higher education meets a certain standard of quality. Anyone can start their own educational institution and call it a “college,” but their status as an institution is not solidified unless they have accreditations to prove the quality of their education. Without accreditation, the degree or certification issued by a college will not be worth the paper it is printed on.
Procuring accreditation must be a difficult process, right? Wrong. Obtaining accreditation is not particularly difficult, thanks to the proliferation of so-called “accreditation mills.” These organizations will issue their own accreditation in exchange for a fee. Their only intention is to make money. However, make no mistake — these accrediting organizations do devise a set of standards and requirements for their accreditations. These standards and requirements are easy enough to meet that any institution willing to pay the fee can be “accredited” by these organizations.
In contrast, plenty of high-quality, widely-recognized accrediting bodies do exist. These organizations have set tough standards and requirements so any institution that is accredited by these organizations is recognized to produce a quality education for its students. While these organizations also make money, their primary mission is to hold these institutions of higher education to an acceptable standard of quality.
In order for an institution of higher education to provide students with a degree program that will be recognized by other schools and the workforce, that institution must be accredited. However, it is not merely enough for a student to attend an accredited institution. In order for your hard work and effort to be rewarded, you must make sure your school is accredited by a recognized accrediting organization. Vista College is accredited by nationally-recognized accrediting institutions so you can be proud of the education you receive.
What Does Accreditation Mean in Real World Terms?
An educational institution’s accreditation is important for the student in two ways. First, it speaks directly to the quality of education the student received, which is something potential employers will care about. When an employer looks at your resume, you don’t want them to automatically dismiss it when they see where you got your degree.
Second, if you’re looking to transfer to another school, accreditation will determine whether or not your credits will be accepted by the next institution. You don’t want to waste thousands of dollars and a few semesters taking classes that won’t transfer anywhere.
How Can Accreditation Benefit Me?
Attending an accredited school opens many doors for students — not just immediately after graduation, but also down the road in your career. Some of these benefits include:
If you decide to further your education in the future, having credits completed at an accredited institution can save you time and money when you transfer them to your next school. Some certification programs can knock whole semesters off a bachelor’s degree program down the road.
In addition to the benefits accreditation can offer, carefully consider the damage an unaccredited school can inflict:
- Employers are familiar with most of the popular accredited programs in their areas. If they’re interested in your resume but don’t recognize your school, they will certainly do their own research. If they don’t like what they see from that school, they might remove you from consideration.
- Their curriculum could be outdated or worse, inaccurate. There is no curriculum oversight outside of accreditation. If a school is not accredited, there’s no one checking to make sure their courses meet any sort of objective standard.
- Your credits will not transfer to other degree-granting institutions. If you decide to go back to school later on, you’ll be starting from scratch. This will cost you both time and money.
With all of these factors combined, attending an accredited school can prevent the possibility of losing years of your life — and thousands of your hard-earned dollars — attending a school with a bad reputation.
What Are Accrediting Agencies?
Accrediting agencies are private associations that develop criteria which must be met by any institution that requests accreditation. These accrediting agencies develop evaluation methods and assessments. Then, they conduct these evaluations independently to determine whether an institution will receive accreditation.
The rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>U.S. Department of Education is not an accrediting agency. However, the Department is required by law to publish a list of nationally-recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary of Education determines “are reliable authorities as to the quality of education provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit.”
In other words, the Department of Education should be the primary authority on which accrediting agencies meet their strict national standards for quality. If an accrediting agency is not recognized by the US. Department of Education, you should do additional research to determine its legitimacy. Also note that there are two tiers of accrediting agencies in the United States: Regional accreditation and National accreditation.
With the increase in degree programs offered by online colleges, accrediting agencies have been keeping pace. Accredited online colleges can offer the same quality of education as traditional four-year colleges.
What Does the Accreditation Process Involve?
Each accrediting agency will have its own set of guidelines and procedures. In general, the process will look like this, as outlined by the US. Department of Education:
Development of Standards – each accrediting agency works to identify its own standards, which cover a wide range of institutional characteristics. These include, but are not limited to, professional and academic accomplishment of faculty, and adherence to educational standards for specific degree programs.
Self-Study – the institution seeking accreditation plays an active role in the entire accreditation process. This starts with a self-evaluation of its current performance relative to the standards of the accrediting agency.
On-Site Evaluation – the accrediting agency will send representatives to the institution to perform its own independent verification of the institution and its performance relative to the standards.
Publication – Once satisfied with the results of the inquiry, the accrediting agency will publish the accreditation status of the educational institution. This signifies to both companies and other institutions that this institution is meeting the quality standards for education set forth by the accrediting agency.
Monitoring – Accreditation is not a one-time process. In order to maintain the accreditation status, the institution will be monitored for the length of the accreditation period to ensure that the institution continues to meet the agency’s standards.
Reevaluation – All accreditation has an expiration date. To renew their accreditation status, an institution must submit to a reevaluation process to determine the institution’s worthiness of continued accreditation.
How Many Accrediting Agencies Are There?
There are hundreds of accrediting agencies on both the national and regional level. A list of regional and national accrediting agencies recognized by either the CHEA or U.S. Department of Education can be found here. There are many reasons why one of these two organizations might not recognize an accrediting agency. Therefore, it’s not an indictment of the organization’s quality if it is not recognized by both the CHEA and the US DoE on this list.
What Types of Accreditation Are There?
Accreditation falls into two basic categories: institutional accreditation and specialized or programmatic accreditation.
Institutional accreditation applies to the college as a whole. It indicates that each department of an institution of higher education is contributing to the goals and objectives of the entire institution.
Specialized or programmatic accreditation applies to specific programs or departments within an institution. In order for a program or department to receive specialized accreditation, the institution as a whole does not necessarily need to be accredited. However, these two accreditation types are often held simultaneously. You will likely run across specialized or programmatic accreditations as you evaluate the merits of accredited online programs.
How Does the Accreditation Type Affect My Education?
The specific type of accreditation can impact your education, although it depends largely on the type of education you receive. If you’re attending a school for a more general degree, such as accounting or business, institutional accreditation will help your degree carry more weight. Employers will know that you received a well-rounded education when they read your resume. You will also be able to apply your degree to a wider variety of potential jobs. You can be confident knowing your credits have value down the road if you choose to go back to school for an advanced degree.
If you’re attending school to go through a specific vocational program, specialized accreditation can give both you and any potential employers confidence — you’ll both be able to trust that the program prepared you to perform in the field right from day one. By enrolling in a degree program that has attained programmatic accreditation, you can be sure that you are receiving a hands-on education based on the latest industry practices, regulations, and technologies.
A program is going to lose their specialized accreditation if their curriculum is ten years behind the times. This programmatic accreditation is essential in making sure students receive the best possible education.
What Accreditations Does Vista College Currently Hold?
Vista College online campus is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges – ACCSC. Vista College is institutionally accredited by the Council on Occupation Education — COE.
Both the ACCSC and the COE are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, so you can trust that Vista College is meeting the very highest educational standards in the country.
Vista College also possesses several specialized accreditations:
- The Associate of Applied Science Degrees are approved and regulated by The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Commission of the Council on Occupation Education, and New Mexico Higher Education Board.
- The Vocational Nurse Program is regulated by the Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas.
- The Practical Nurse program is regulated by the New Mexico Board of Nursing.
Vista College works to ensure our programs always remain accredited and renewed. Our students can consistently benefit from the highest quality education.
How To Tell if a College Is Accredited
Since accreditation is such a big deal, colleges will likely list their accreditations on their website in a section that will be easy to find. If you’re researching schools and you come across one that hasn’t prominently displayed their accreditations, contact the institution and ask for them. If they can’t supply that information, you might want to consider crossing them off the list.
Once you get a list of each school’s current accreditations, you want to do a little research on your own. Find out if those accrediting agencies are nationally-recognized by the CHEA or the U.S. DoE. Attending an accredited online school won’t do you any good if they received their accreditation from one of the for-profit “accreditation mills.” Both CHEA and the U.S. DoE publish a list every year that includes the accreditation agencies that meet their standards. Agencies that are on this list are considered trustworthy organizations.
Above all, you want to make sure that you are committing to an accredited online school that can be trusted. You can trust Vista College. Contact us if you have any questions about our accreditations.