National vs. Regional Accreditation: Why Does it Matter?

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Decisions, decisions, decisions. For most people, selecting a college or university is not an easy task. Small or large? Public or private? Traditional classroom or online?

Not all questions about college selection may jump out at you right away. Perhaps the choice between a regionally accredited or a nationally accredited school didn’t come to mind, but it may be one of the most important questions to consider.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is an important assessment of institutional quality, namely, quality assurance and quality improvement.

Accreditation is both a process and a status that assures higher education institutions and programs meet a set of standards developed by peers. So when a college or university says they are accredited, it means they have been recognized with a seal of approval. Accreditation in the United States is more than 100 years old and, today, serves a regulatory role in higher education.

 

What is Regional Accreditation?

Though the word ‘regional’ may be misleading, it refers to the area where the accrediting organization operates. For example, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education oversees New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. At the time of its inception, the country lacked a centralized educational system and regional associations formed to fulfill the role, growing along with the nation’s population.

Most regionally accredited institutions are predominantly degree-oriented, nonprofit or state-owned and have more regulations in place for educational quality and academic standards across regions.

 

What is National Accreditation?

National accreditation is a much newer concept. Many people confuse the term ‘national,’ thinking it is better or more far-reaching than regional accreditation. But that is not where the difference lies.  

Nationally accredited schools are generally profit oriented or religion affiliated and offer vocational or technical programs. They award both certificates and degrees. Requirements are not as standardized as regional accreditation because of the specialized nonacademic focus.

 

Why Should You Care?

So why should you even care if an institution has regional accreditation or national accreditation? The answer depends on your educational goals.

If you want to pursue a career that requires an academic degree, then you may want to attend a regionally accredited school. On the other hand, if you are more interested in a vocational or technical program, a nationally accredited institution may be the better fit. But whatever you decide to do, keep a few things in mind:

  • Do your research. Degrees or certificates from nationally accredited institutions may not be accepted by all employers, so be sure to research related jobs and check with your employer to figure out which educational route is preferred.
  • Review your transfer credits. Since both types of accreditation are evaluated by different independent groups, credits earned at a regionally accredited institution accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited ones, and vice versa.
  • Apply for financial aid, if applicable. Both regionally and nationally accredited institutions are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and are eligible for federal financial aid.

Topics: Going Back to College