What Accreditation Means to Online Education

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Accreditation of higher education institutions typically indicates an official, U.S. Department of Education-sanctioned review of each academic model. The privilege to advertise accreditation means a general curriculum, or specialty curriculum, has undergone a rigorous review by one of a handful of DOE-sanctioned accrediting agencies.

Accreditation aims to corral the academic metrics and apply them to higher educational institutions. But not every college and university is accredited because accreditation remains a voluntary process. Most that value their reputations now sport accreditation, though, and students seeking online degrees are absolutely encouraged to seek out those programs with the proper accreditation. However, keep in mind that some legitimate schools, such as faith-based universities and newer programs, may not be accredited despite offering high-quality educational experiences.

Accreditation Criteria

Accrediting agencies have general criteria by which they measure an institution's academic worthiness. Online colleges and universities undergo a multifaceted process of accreditation that does not take place overnight. Accreditation agents typically visit a physical campus and/or administrative offices, examine institutional infrastructure, and make certain that credentialed faculty and academic processes are legitimate and intact. Each institution is also held accountable for its own self-evaluation. Criteria used to measure academic worth include:

  • Institutional mission.
  • Ability to evaluate and modify academic models to accommodate future growth.
  • Effective curriculum, qualified faculty, and evidence of measurable learning.
  • Support of faculty and students and evidence of vision to support their work outside academic parameters.
  • Involvement with community, both regional and global.

Degree and Accrediation Mills

In the world of online education, there remain low-quality programs that do not offer the same degree value as those from respected institutions. And low-quality aside, there are plenty of online degree mills that sell illegitimate degrees to misled degree-hungry consumers. Degree and diploma mills manage to feed on consumers' ignorance and zeal for a college degree. Degrees ìconferredî based on life experience may seem ridiculous, but plenty of individuals have been stung by this real-world ploy.

Legitimate colleges and universities in the U.S. may be accredited by one or more DOE-recognized accrediting agencies. Some accreditors are responsible for general curriculums, while others are charged with specialized programs, such as teaching, nursing, psychology, and many others. Consumers shopping for high-quality online degrees and professional education are advised to assure academic quality by confirming a college or university's distance education accreditation is one of those listed with the DOE.

* University of Phoenix is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association. University of Phoenix was placed on Notice by The Higher Learning Commission, effective June 27, 2013. For additional information, contact The Higher Learning Commission, ncahlc.org