Online Program Accreditation: What to Know

While searching for the perfect online education program, it is important to find one that is accredited. Accreditation is an evaluation process that is voluntary and recurrent.

It assures and improves the quality of educational institutions and programs. A program’s accreditation is assessed by a nongovernmental, self-regulatory and non-profit accrediting agency. Online degree programs need accreditors to set high standards for academics, student achievement, faculty and integrity. Although the U.S. Department of education does not provide accreditation, they oversee the system and ensure equal enforcement of standards.

Accreditation agencies and organizations that approve accrediting agencies establish standards for schools and colleges. If you are looking at online education programs, you are probably in the market to change or advance your career. Sometimes employers do not see online education as valuable and will want to verify that the degree you received came from an accredited online program. Another instance where accreditation is important is with transferring credits. If you complete a program at an institution or online that is not deemed accredited, your credits will not transfer to the new school you want to attend. To learn more about the concept of accreditation and how to tell if your online program is accredited, refer to the sections below.

Accreditation Facts

Prior to choosing an online program and enrolling, there are a few things to consider that involve accreditation. The first being that there are two forms of accreditation for online programs, and whichever program you choose needs to meet both of these requirements. Your online program should have specialized and institutional accreditation. Specialized accreditation can also be referred to as programmatic, and is for particular degrees, departments or schools. Institutional accreditation applies to the entire university.

As stated above, your online program should be accredited by an agency recognized by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education. You can usually find accreditation status information on the online program’s website. To be certain, you can double-check with the department, the council or by calling the actual school.

If you are looking to take online courses, it is critical to know that not all courses and programs are accredited. There are a lot of fake programs on the internet. They try to draw you in with unrealistically low tuition and fees, but keep in mind that if something seems to good to be true, it usually is. There are also “accreditation mills” that give schools accreditation under minimum standards. They trick students by confirming that the accreditor is recognized by the Department of Education.

The easiest way to find a program that is accredited is to look for programs that are run through respected and well-known universities. You can assume that these courses have both institutional and specialized accreditation. While reputable universities decrease the likelihood of you being tricked, it is still a good idea to double check if the institution is accredited.

If you are insistent on going to a lesser-known school, look for a program that is regionally accredited, opposed to nationally. Employers are more likely to recognize programs that are regionally accredited.

How to Check if an Online Program is Accredited

Many employers and schools indicate legitimacy by accreditation, so it is important that you know the steps you need to take to ensure that your online program is credible. In addition to the accreditation types mentioned above, you want to make sure that your course has institutional accreditation if you are looking to receive financial aid. Financial aid works for online programs just as it does for brick-and-mortar institutions. You can receive assistance in the form of grants, loans and work-studies. To determine a school’s accreditation, go to their website and refer to their “about” section. This section should mention accreditation.

Earlier in this article, regional and national accreditation were mentioned. While regional accreditation is usually relevant information to potential employers, national and regional accreditation should be considered with your educational goals in mind as well. Note that the credit transferring process is easier when the accreditation is regional. Many people prefer regional accreditation because it is typically viewed as more rigorous. Beware of schools claiming to be internationally accredited. Such a thing does not exist so if a school claims to be internationally accredited, write it off as a fraudulent online program.

It is not common for major universities to lose their accreditation, but it is still not a bad idea to search an institution’s accreditation history. Doing a little research will help you determine the school’s weaknesses and whether they have been addressed or not.

Signs a Program is Fraudulent

With so many programs online, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by your choices. There are several fraudulent online schools that are just trying to make money. The people behind these fake websites know that you are looking for ways to save money and time. The last thing you want to happen is to be duped by a scheme with no money or degree to show for it.

Many online accreditation mills have names similar to those of well-known and prestigious universities, and these modified names can trick you and others into signing up for their programs. They even go as far as creating faculty names and credentials.

It is easy for anyone to fall prey to an online program scam, but it is more common amongst international and first-generation college students. Accreditation status is important for this reason. It acts as a way to show that the program or website is trustworthy. Do not hesitate to call a school directly to determine if it is accredited. The most important thing to do is research a school before enrolling. Accredited programs are everywhere, but there are many fraudulent programs ready to take your money with false credentials.

If you are a student looking into a non-U.S. education program, you need to contact the ministry education in the country where the program will be based. Ask the authorities about the program’s accreditation and its authority to operate. The Council of Higher Education has an international directory with a list of quality assurance for education around the world. Note that different countries will have different standards for their programs.

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