The review of educational programs began in the late 1800s with a goal of better aligning secondary and college level programs. Groups of educators formed to establish guidelines for schools in their local areas.
Today, regional accrediting agencies review higher education institutions located in six geographic areas of the United States. This is the oldest type of accreditation, and still regarded by many institutions as the most prestigious. It’s the type of accreditation held by most traditional, campus-based schools, although a growing number of online institutions also have regional accreditation status. Regional accreditors review on-campus, online, and blended programs.
A school’s accreditation status can affect you as a student in many ways, including:
- applying to graduate school
- meeting employer expectations and certification requirements
- receiving federal student aid
- transferring academic credit
Regional accreditation plays an especially important role in transferring academic credit. Each school establishes its own policies regarding what will be accepted and how it might be applied toward a specific degree program. Some schools, however, will only consider credits that were earned at a regionally accredited institution.
If you enroll in a school with plans to transfer in the future, or have already completed course work that you would like to apply to a new program now, carefully research the requirements of the receiving school. Take a look at the information provided by Saint Leo University Online, Troy University, and the University of Michigan as examples of the different guidance you will find.
To initiate the process of review, ask about transfer credit when working with admissions offices at the schools where you submit applications.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The following six organizations, and their subdivisions, are regional accrediting agencies reviewing higher education institutions in the U.S.:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACS) with subdivision: Commission on Higher Education (MSA-CHE)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) with subdivisions: Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE) and Commission on Technical and Career Institutions (CTCI)
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) with subdivision: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) with subdivisions: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC-WASC) and the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-SCUC)
Finding Recognized Regional Accreditors
The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) independently evaluate the work of accrediting agencies, and officially recognize those who have been found to be reliable in their review of colleges and universities.
The USDOE focuses on accreditation as a requirement for distributing financial aid, while the CHEA focuses on accreditation as a way to measure academic quality. It’s important to understand that the USDOE and CHEA do not accredit schools and programs themselves, but do provide a good place for us to start in our own search for accredited options.
Here are a few resources you can use to find out more about which accrediting agencies are recognized by the USDOE and/or the CHEA, and in turn, which schools are accredited by the recognized agencies:
- Database of Accredited Institutions and Program: Search this USDOE site by school or accrediting agency.
- Directory of Recognized Organizations: A list of accrediting agencies recognized by the CHEA.
- Recognized Accrediting Organizations: A side-by-side list of accrediting agencies and their status as recognized by the USDOE and/or CHEA.