Accreditation is the process by which an institution-in this case, an online college or university-is certified to have met standards set by a board of representatives selected from peer institutions. An accredited degree from a certified school of higher education will be accepted by other schools and organizations as well as by prospective employers. Proper accreditation for an online degree can mean the difference between a degree that gets you a new job and a certificate that isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
The two kinds of accreditation are “institutional” and “specialized,” or “programmatic.” Institutional accreditation normally is given to the institution as a whole, though it doesn't mean that all components of the school are of the same quality. Specialized accreditation applies to parts of the school, which may be as large as a college within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline.
You can check any online school's accreditation status in less than a minute. Here's how to find out if a school is accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education:
Checking United States Department of Education Accreditation Listings
Go to the U.S. Department of Education's (USDE) College Search page. (You also can check the USDE's accreditation database.)
Enter the name of the online school you would like to research. You don't need to enter information in any other field. Then hit "search." You'll be shown a school or several schools that match your search criteria. Click on the school you're looking for.
The selected school's accreditation information will appear. Make sure this page is about the school you're seeking by comparing the website, phone number, and address information you see at the top left with the information you already have.
You can view the college's institutional or specialized accreditation on this page. Click on the accrediting agency for more information. In addition to accreditation status, this information includes the accrediting agency, the date the school was originally accredited, the most recent accreditation action, and the next review date.
Checking Council for Higher Education Accreditation Listings
You may also use the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's website to search for accredited online institutions. The process is much the same as with the USDE search, though at the CHEA site you must agree to the terms and conditions before reaching the search field. Also, the CHEA page provides less information than the USDE page.
You also can access a chart comparing CHEA and USDE recognition.
Accreditation Doesn't Guarantee Success
Accreditation doesn't guarantee that credit hours will transfer to another institution nor assure acceptance of graduates by employers. That remains the prerogative of the school or prospective employer. The Department of Education recommends that students take other steps to determine if the institution will meet their goals, including asking other schools whether your credits will transfer or asking possible employers if, for example, the institution's courses will count toward a professional license.