Published on 2012/05/25

Accreditations: Bigger Is Not Necessarily Better

Pay close attention to the accreditation level of your next class; regional and national accreditations don't hold the same weight. Photo illustration by Vic Lawrence.

When I embarked on my path toward educational success in the early 90s, the excitement of easy access to online education clouded the need to fully understand the differences between a national and regional accreditation. The Army culture was “any degree was better than no degree” and tuition assistance was provided regardless of the program as long as it had one of the two accreditations. I simply believed that as long as I had a degree relevant to the field in which I wanted to work, I would be more competitive and marketable when looking for a job. I have since learned through personal and financial reinforcement the significance of the acceptance and use of these accreditations in both the educational and civilian career world.

After I completed my associate’s degree, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. After finding the university I wanted to attend, I forwarded my transcripts and was informed the school would only accept about half the credits. I inquired about the reason and learned that the institution I received my associate’s degree from was only nationally accredited and the institution I wanted to attend was regionally accredited.

Now, when I heard the word national versus regional my assumption was; national is bigger, right? Well, turns out that’s only true in the definition of the word.

You see, in the educational world that includes strict guidelines and standards, smaller translates to more restrictions or guidelines, making the regional accreditation both more respected and widely transferable among institutions. So the choice I was left with was to repeat some of the courses I had already completed at this new institution, or pursue my bachelors’ degree at the regionally accredited school that just bought out the institution I received my associate’s from. This school cost double the amount per credit hour, but would accept all credits received by the school they just consumed. Some choice.

The second encounter I had with the accreditation of my completed courses was more recent. When I was deployed to Iraq, our unit was located at a forward operating base where no resident college courses were offered. I inquired with one of the colleges that work with the military to see if I met the qualifications to teach any courses for them since I held my bachelor’s degree and was only five courses away from earning my master’s, both from regionally accredited schools.

During the hiring and review process the institution, also regionally accredited, immediately identified that my associate degree courses were from a national accredited school and would not count them toward the courses I would be qualified to teach, limiting the number of courses I could offer to the soldiers. Fortunately; I pursued my bachelors’ through a regionally accredited school and along with my military experience I was qualified to instruct 26 other college level, regionally accredited courses.

It is important to ensure whatever institution you choose to attend is accredited. This article is not meant to suggest one over the other, because both national and regional accreditations have their own proven successes. The importance of understanding the difference between the two when making such an vital decision is critical to future endeavors, even if you don’t know what those are.

For this reason I offer two simple summations; the national accreditation was started as an association of schools focused on a specific trade or theme and can represent institutions across the United States. Regional accreditation agencies are established in six different regions. Every location requires the same standards and guidelines allowing transfer of credits between most regionally accredited institutions.

As I have learned over the years; the primary takeaway from this article is this: nationally accredited institutions will usually accept credits from regionally or nationally accredited institutions, regionally accredited schools regularly will not accept credits from nationally accredited institutions.

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Readers Comments

Chuck Schwartz 2012/05/27 at 10:04 pm

Thank you for taking the time to put this together, Grant!

Do you find more availability of regional accreditations in distance learning? Or more national?

Luana 2012/08/16 at 10:48 am

Thanks for the information, excellent job! Some of us who have not been in school for a while do not know the difference regarding accreditation’s. However, we spend a lot of money pursuing an education that might not go anywhere in the future.

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