All About Specialized Accreditation

Specialized, or programmatic, accreditation is used to ensure that the education you receive from a specific program, department, school, or college within an institution is of high quality. This is different from institutional accreditation, which encompasses an entire school, because specialized accreditation focuses on the particulars of one field of study. Specialized accrediting agencies are experts in their fields and set the bar that programs strive to reach because they know what is required of a professional in that particular field. As such, specialized accrediting agencies often develop accrediting criteria to make sure students are fully prepared to transition into the workplace.

Completing an accredited program guarantees that students have gained the know-how they need to enter their field of choice. Due to this assurance, employers often check to see if job candidates earned their degree from an accredited institution through an accredited program. This means that accreditation isn’t obtained just for an institution to have bragging rights — even though gaining accreditation is something to brag about — it also helps you to successfully transition from being a student to being a professional. We recommend that once you choose a field or industry to pursue, make certain the school and the program holds specialized accredited if applicable.

Not all areas have study have reputable specialized accreditation agencies in place, but many, such as health care, architecture, business, and psychology, do. There is a lot of importance placed on specialized accreditation for these types of fields, even when the institution offering the program is accredited. As mentioned, specialized accreditation is often looked for in addition to institutional accreditation because while institutional accreditation involves a general evaluation of the campus, faculty, and education delivery methods for a school, specialized accreditation is focused on a single area of study. Therefore, even though a student may attend an accredited institution, if the program he or she completes is not accredited, he or she may not acquire the right credentials and struggle with job placement. In fact, many professional positions requiring state or federal licensing require that their employee’s education be from an accredited program, so research the educational requirements and search for an accredited program that matches your findings.

Since there is no governing authority that enforces a standard of education in colleges or universities in the U.S., there are varying degrees of quality. Students should know that accreditation of any type is voluntary. When an institution wants one of their programs, departments, or schools, such as a university’s school of law, to be recognized for being of high quality, they apply for accreditation. Then, an agency that focuses on that particular type of program will come and make an evaluation based on the standards and criteria they have established. The agency will review the course materials, faculty, hands-on training (if applicable), and teaching methods for the program. If the program meets or exceeds the minimum standards the agency has established, they are awarded accreditation.

A good way to check the accreditation status of the school and the program that you are considering is to use College Navigator. This tool allows students to search for accreditation details by school name, program, state, degree level, institution type, and more. For example, if a student types in the name of a university, they can see what agency accredited the school, as well as what programs are accredited and by which specialized agencies.

We suggest that students take their research a step further. These agencies are private organizations, but they must meet the requirements established by the U.S. Department of Education in order to gain national recognition. Therefore, students should compare the accrediting agencies listed by an institution to an official list of nationally recognized specialized accrediting agencies, which are provided by the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and the U.S. Department of Education. A red flag should be raised if a specialized agency that is not found here is listed by an institution.

A college education is expensive, time consuming, and should be used toward the start or advancement of a career. Thus, students need to make sure they are spending their money and time wisely, and that they are truly investing in their futures. The best way to do this is to make sure that the institution and the program they are considering are accredited by nationally recognized accrediting agencies.