What is accreditation and why does it matter for you?

Interesting courses – check. Experienced faculty – check. Favorable tuition costs – check. But what about accreditation? This recognition is key for distinguishing which universities you can trust to provide the quality education you need to advance your career.

Here’s what you need to know about accreditation:

What is accreditation?

This critical seal of approval designates the institutions of higher learning that meet acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting bodies, including non-governmental entities as well as state government agencies, follow specific guidelines and rigorous academic standards approved by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit only the institutions that offer quality education. Thus, this recognition labels institutions as those that provide graduates the level of education necessary to achieve relevant credentials for professional pursuits.

How do colleges and universities become accredited?

While the Department of Education publishes the official list of nationally recognized institutions, the approved accreditors are responsible for reviewing the institutions. According to the Department, this involves a careful process, starting with establishing the standards. From there, the institution or program seeking accreditation performs a self-study. This detailed self-evaluation measures performance in relation to the established standards.

The accreditor then selects a team of qualified peers to conduct an on-site evaluation, providing first-hand perspectives on whether the applicant meets the standards. If the on-site review is satisfactory, the accreditor grants accreditation status. However, the accreditor will continue to monitor the institution to confirm it continues to uphold the standards, and can repeal their decision if necessary.

Are there different types of accreditation?

There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized. The former applies to an entire institution, meaning that all of the programs offered within the institution meet the standards. Specialized accreditation recognizes individual programs, departments or schools within a larger institution. Colleges and universities can also apply for regional or national accreditations.

What does accreditation mean for you?

Accreditation is important for students because it increases confidence in choosing an upstanding institution to pursue a degree. If a program or institution lacks official accreditation, it raises potential red flags, including:

  • Numerous student complaints about the faculty or quality of education.
  • Students receive credits despite the quality or consistency of their work.
  • The accrediting agency is not recognized by the Department of Education.

Along with alerting you to potential flaws, accreditation affects factors, such as:

1. Narrowing the options

Your decision to pursue a degree is the easy part. It gets difficult once you have to choose where you’re going to get that degree. You can shorten the list of potential programs by highlighting the ones that are either individually accredited or offered by an accredited institution. That way, you can feel confident enrolling in programs that the Department of Education recognizes as providing quality education.

Plus, in the event that you transfer your credits to another school, earning them from an accredited institution makes the process much easier. According to the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, some institutions only accept academic credits or degrees that are regionally or nationally accredited.

2. Ensuring continuous improvement

When an institution becomes accredited, part of the deal is to stay up-to-date with industry standards. Accreditors establish review dates to keep the recognition fresh and hold institutions accountable for maintaining their quality. For instance, to be accredited by the ACICS, the council requires institutions to comply with rigorous policies, including developing and implementing effectiveness plans, participating in annual reviews of financial stability and placement rates, and agreeing to both scheduled and unannounced site visits.

These reviews encourage faculty and staff to continually enhance academic quality and create goals for self-improvement. It’s also important to note that accreditation is voluntary, so most institutions that receive the recognition are dedicated to upholding the standards. Thus, when you choose to attend an accredited university, you can expect relevant courses, updated certificate and licensure offerings and valuable campus resources.

3. Confirming quality of online learning

If you’re hesitant to earn your degree online, search for the program’s accreditation status. Accrediting boards and agencies assess the quality of distance and online learning with the same rigorous standards used for on-campus institutions and programs. If it’s accredited, you can assume the online program offers the same quality education as its on-campus counterpart.

4. Applying for financial aid

Your eligibility for federal grants, loans and other aid depends on the college or university you choose to attend. According to the Higher Education Act, federal student aid programs are reserved for accredited institutions. Most state governments also look for accreditation when supplying funds, even if you’re only taking a state licensure exam for professional qualifications.

5. Appealing to employers

Your degree is a boost for your resume, showing potential employers that you’re qualified for the position. However, some employers will only consider applicants with degrees or certifications earned from accredited schools or programs. Similar to how accreditation maximizes student confidence in an institution, employers rely on that quality assurance to determine the validity of an applicant’s education. If you’re hoping your employer will cover tuition costs when furthering your education, accreditation can also help support your case.

Selecting an accredited institution

Choose the University of San Francisco with confidence, as it’s regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in social justice, the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration also has a trustworthy seal of approval. The program is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, which includes U.S. university programs focused to public affairs, public policy, public administration and nonprofit management. NASPAA recognizes the graduate programs that promote the ideal of public service and ensure excellence in education and training for public service.

With the flexibility and convenience of online learning, you can complete your degree on your own schedule – no commuting to class required. Reach out to an advisor to learn more about enrolling in the Online Master of Public Administration program at the University of San Francisco.

Recommended Readings:

The University of San Francisco Accreditation

4 tips for making important decisions


Online Master of Public Administration by the University of San Francisco

Accreditation: Universities and Higher Education by the U.S. Department of Education

FAQs about accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education

The Importance of Accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

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