Higher education accreditation in the United States

Higher education accreditation in the United States

Higher education accreditation in the United States has long been established as a peer review process coordinated by accreditation commissions and member institutions. The federal government began to play a limited role in Higher education accreditation in 1952 with reauthorization of the GI Bill for Korean War veterans. The original GI Bill legislation had stimulated establishment of new colleges and universities to accommodate the influx of new students; but some of these new institutions were of dubious quality. The 1952 legislation designated the existing peer review process as the basis for measuring institutional quality; GI Bill eligibility was limited to students enrolled at accredited institutions included on a list of federally recognized accredited institutions published by the U.S. Commissioner of Education.[1]

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) (a non-governmental organization) both recognize reputable accrediting bodies for institutions of higher education and provide guidelines as well as resources and relevant data regarding these accreditors. Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor CHEA accredit individual institutions.[2]

With the creation of the U.S. Department of Education and under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary has determined to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit.[3] There are regional and national accrediting agencies, both of which are accountable to the Department of Education. Regional bodies have more oversight and accredit institutions in a particular region of the country. National bodies have less oversight in their policy and commonly accredit institutions across the country, and sometimes beyond it. Within American higher education, the former are considered more reputable.[4]


Regional accreditors

Regional accreditation refers to the process by which several U.S. accrediting organizations, known as regional accreditors, accredit schools, colleges, and universities in a particular geographic location regardless of subject-matter.[5]

National accreditors

There are 52 recognized national accrediting bodies.[6] National accreditors get their name from their common policy of accrediting schools nationwide or even worldwide. Requirements for accreditation vary from each national accreditor according to the specialty. In general terms, the national accreditors accredit post-secondary programs that are vocational, technical and career in nature. Some of these programs offer degrees and some only certificates.

Five of these bodies are listed by the Department of Education as general in nature and national in scope. These are:[7]

National accreditation compared to regional accreditation

Regionally accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions.[citation needed] Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career or technical programs.[citation needed] Within the American higher education system, critics note that national accrediting bodies (though not necessarily all nationally-accredited schools) have much lower standards than regional bodies, and consider them disreputable for this reason.[4]

Some regionally accredited colleges have general policies against accepting any credits from nationally accredited schools, others are reluctant to because regional schools feel that national schools' academic standards are lower than their own or they are unfamiliar with the particular school.[8][9] It is important to note that both types of accreditation are legitimate and recognized by the Department of Education. However, there have been lawsuits regarding nationally accredited schools who led prospective students to believe that they would have no problem transferring their credits to regionally accredited schools.[10][11][12]

Specialized and professional accreditors

Specialized and professional accreditors are recognized as reputable by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Best practices are shared and developed through affiliation with the Association of Professional and Specialized Accreditors.[13] The more visible specialized and professional accreditors include:

Other recognized accreditors

Several organizations exist that accredit institutions and which are not recognized by the DOE or CHEA. These include:

Religious accreditors

Although many schools related to religious organizations hold regional accreditation or secular national accreditation, there are four different agencies that specialize in accreditation of religious schools:

These groups specialize in accrediting theological and religious schools including seminaries and graduate schools of theology, as well as broader-scope universities that teach from a religious viewpoint and may require students and/or faculty to subscribe to a statement of faith.[citation needed] Additionally, as of 2009, 20 U.S. states and Puerto Rico had some form of exemption provision under which religious institutions can grant religious degrees without accreditation or government oversight.[18]

Use of .edu top-level Internet domain

Since 2001, the use of the top-level internet domain, .edu has been restricted to accredited institutions, but non-qualifying institutions can still use .edu domain names obtained before the current rules came into force.[19]

See also

  • List of recognized higher education accreditation organizations
  • List of unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations


  1. ^ "Recognition of Accreditation Organizations: A Comparison of Policy & Practice of Voluntary Accreditation and The United States Department of Education". CHEA. January 1998. http://www.chea.org/pdf/RecognitionWellman_Jan1998.pdf. Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  2. ^ U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States
  3. ^ College Review Journal, Complete List of National Accrediting Agencies.
  4. ^ a b Aasen, Adam (November 18, 2008). "Battle rages on accreditation, college money". The Florida Times-Union. http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/schools/2008-11-12/battle_rages_on_accreditation_college_money. Retrieved June 3, 2011. 
  5. ^ U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States
  6. ^ Accreditation Search from the United States Department of Education
  7. ^ 'Accreditation in the United States', United States Department of Education website
  8. ^ Scott Jaschik. "''Demanding Credit'', Inside Higher Education website, dated October 19, 2005 by Scott Jaschik". Insidehighered.com. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/10/19/transfer. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  9. ^ — Doug Lederman. "''Tussling Over Transfer of Credit'', Inside Higher Education website, February 26, 2007 by Doug Lederman". Insidehighered.com. http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/02/26/transfer. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  10. ^ Heffter, Emily (2006-02-24). "''Student Takes on College and Wins'', Seattle Times, February 24, 2006 by Emily Heffter and Nick Perry". Archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com. http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=crown24m&date=20060224&query=%22University+of+Washington%22. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  11. ^ Billman, Jeffrey C.. "''Bad Education'' Orlando Weekly, April 14, 2005, by Jeffrey C. Billman". Orlandoweekly.com. http://www.orlandoweekly.com/features/story.asp?id=526. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  12. ^ "''A Battle Over Standards At For-Profit Colleges'', Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2005 by John Hechinger". Collegejournal.com. http://www.collegejournal.com/aidadmissions/newstrends/20051003-hechinger.html. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  13. ^ ASPA: Assn of Specialized & Professional Accreditors - http://www.rwkdesign.com+(2003-03-31). "Association of Professional and Specialized Accreditors". Aspa-usa.org. http://www.aspa-usa.org/. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  14. ^ NATEF
  15. ^ HVAC Excellence
  16. ^ Accredited Programs
  17. ^ The Committee of Bar Examiners, State Bar of California (August 28, 2009). Guidelines for Accredited Law School Rules. http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=X8JLiMWIgP8%3D&tabid=2192. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  18. ^ Religious Exempt Schools, Oregon Student Assistance Commission Office of Degree Authorization website, accessed March 21, 2011
  19. ^ ".edu Internet Addresses". Diploma Mills and Accreditation - Diploma Mills. United States Department of Education. http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/diploma-mills.html. Retrieved 2010-02-19 

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