Regional vs. National Accreditation - Which is better for Online Colleges?

For a college or university, accreditation means to be recognized with a seal of approval by National Accreditation or Regional Accreditation. Discover the differences between the Regional and National Accreditation.

TCM Staff

14th September 2022

Accreditation is an essential evaluation of the quality of an institution. It focuses on two factors - Quality Assurance and Quality Improvement. 

It is a process of validation in which all the education bodies of higher learning are evaluated. The standards for accreditation are set by a peer review board. Its members include faculty from various accredited colleges and universities.

Regional Accreditation is state-owned and highly prestigious whereas National Accreditation is career-oriented, vocational, and profit-seeking in nature.

It is both a process and a status to ensure that higher education institutions and programs meet a set of standards developed by the accrediting councils. 

Related: What is Accreditation in Colleges and Universities?

Why is Accreditation important? 

Accreditation has the following purposes- 

  • Helps determine if an institution meets or exceeds minimum standards of quality. 

  • It Helps students determine acceptable institutions for enrolment. 

  • Assist institutions in determining an acceptability of transfer credits. 

  • Helps employers determine the validity of programs of study and whether a graduate is qualified. 

  • Provides a basis for determining eligibility for federal student assistance. 

Types of online colleges accreditation 

  1. Regional Accreditation 

  2. National Accreditation 

  3. Specialized Accreditation 

What is Regional Accreditation?

The word ‘regional’ seems to be deceiving but it refers to the area or the region where the accrediting organization operates.

When people ask if you have attended an 'accredited university' in the United States, the people most commonly mean a regionally accredited university.

It is considered the most esteemed and widely- recognized type of accreditation. Regionally-accredited schools are reviewed by their designated regional agency.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 85 percent of all colleges in the United States are regionally accredited. A vast majority of online schools are regionally accredited.

Six major regional accrediting bodies in the United States are mentioned.

Regionally accredited online institutions

Following is the list of some online colleges and universities with regional accreditation.

Regionally accredited online colleges


Regional Accrediting Body

Drexel University


George Washington University


Norwich University


George Mason University


Trident University International


What is the National Accreditation?

National Accreditation is a much newer concept. Many people get misled by the term ‘national,’ thinking it is better or more widely-recognized than regional accreditation. But that is not the case. 

Nationally accredited schools, in general, are profit-oriented or religiously affiliated colleges, offering vocational or technical programs. They award both certificates and degrees. 

  • It involves specialized non-academic focus and the requirements are not as standardized as those in the case of Regional Accreditation.

  • The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also recognizes several 'national accreditation agencies'.

  • These national agencies are not restricted to any particular region.

  • Nationally accredited schools are reviewed once every 3-5 years to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements standards laid down by accrediting agencies.

The two most popular national' college accreditation agencies recognized by CHEA are the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC/DEAC) and Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

Other national accreditation agencies include the Council on Occupational Education (COE) and Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission (TRACS). 

Nationally Accreditated Institutions 

The list of colleges and universities with national accreditation along with their associated accrediting agencies is given in the table.

College Or University

National accrediting agency

Abraham Lincoln University


Crown College


Catholic Distance University


Full Sail University


Columbia Southern University


Difference between National Accreditation and Regional Accreditation

The table lists the major differences between National Accreditation and Regional Accreditation.

Differences between Regionally Accredited Colleges and Nationally Accredited Colleges

Regional Accreditation

National Accreditation

Schools are reviewed by their designated regional agency.

Agencies review institutions of a similar type, such as career, vocational, and technical (art & design, etc.) schools.

Maybe more expensive than nationally-accredited schools.

Maybe less expensive than regionally-accredited schools.

More selective during the admissions process.

Has more relaxed admission standards.

Mostly academic, non-profit institutions.

Predominantly for-profit institutions.

Must fundraise to meet their budget via private donations, federal grants, and legacy giving.

Earn revenue via enrollment or selling educational products. Might be accountable to shareholders.

Typically, nationally-accredited schools will accept credits from both regionally- and nationally accredited schools.

Credits are not transferable to a regionally-accredited college.

Eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans.

Graduates are not always eligible for corporate tuition reimbursement plans. 

Which is better - Regional or National Accreditation?

What is 'better' for you?

If you mean 'better academically', then one can not conclude that one type of online university accreditation is better than the other. However, the nationally accredited online colleges do lack some real benefits and perks, associated with regionally accredited online colleges.

Regionally Accredited Online Colleges

Regional Accreditation is advantageous but it is not without some downsides.


  • Considered as the gold standard of college accreditation as it is highly prestigious

  • Has the largest possible acceptance and is the most widely recognized type of college accreditation

  • Credits and Degrees are easily transferrable

  • Eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans

  • Instructor-led courses are provided


  • It is usually more expensive than nationally accredited colleges

  • More liberal arts coursework is generally required

  • May offer less career-oriented programs

  • Employs high and competitive admission standards

Nationally Accredited Online Colleges

These are less preferred when compared with regionally accredited colleges, but they also offer various benefits.


  • Usually, it is less expensive than its regionally accredited counterparts

  • Less liberal arts coursework is required

  • Offers more practical and career-oriented majors

  • Relaxed admission standards are generally employed


  • Nationally accredited universities readily take in students from regionally accredited universities, while the other way around ... tough luck!

  • Coursework and degrees may not be widely accepted for professions that require licensing after degree attainment.

  • Corporate tuition and reimbursement plans may not be included.

  • Sometimes, instructor-led course sessions are not provided and one has to rely on self-study. 

Programmatic Accreditation

There is a third type of accreditation that prospective students should look for when evaluating institutions - programmatic accreditation, sometimes called 'specialized accreditation' or 'professional accreditation'.

While national and regional accrediting agencies review higher educational institutions as a whole, programmatic accrediting agencies examine individual academic units, programs, or disciplinary offerings.

Programmatic accreditation is offered to singular programs, departments, or schools within an institution, and the accrediting body is often concentrated on individual academic disciplines, such as nursing or medical science. 

This ensures that students are given quality education in a particular area of study. Though different from regional accreditation, it offers the same level of prestige.

Eligibility requirements for online accredited colleges 

For a school to even be considered for accreditation, there are several requirements they must first meet. These include: 

  • Required to be operating as an “educational institution or organization whose primary purpose is providing education or training”. 

  • Must be properly “licensed, authorized, exempted or approved” by the appropriate institutional authority for the state and be compliant with all local, state, and federal requirements. 

  • When applying, should have been offering classes for at least two years. 

  • Must be able to document that the institution is financially healthy and able to meet any financial responsibilities. 

  • Agrees to the possibility of owners, officers, and managers undergoing a background check. 

  • Cannot have any pending or finalized action enacted by a state or accrediting agency. 

Regional vs. National Accreditation - Why does it matter?

One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a college or university is whether your institution of choice is accredited nationally or regionally at the institutional level.

Is my degree accredited?

Ensuring that your college is accredited is a key to making the most out of your education. Here’s how you can be sure that your institution is accredited.

  • Check for national or regional institutional accreditation.

  • Check the Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) to be sure that your institution is listed as either nationally or regionally-accredited.

  • Explore if your intended career path requires programmatic accreditation.

  • If you’re pursuing a career in Human Services, Business, Nursing, or a specialized area, it may benefit you to verify if your institution's degree program is accredited.  

How does it affect you?

Seeking admission to an institution that is not nationally or regionally accredited may lead to wastage of both time and money.

The kind of accreditation plays a major role in areas that may affect you like both -

  • A student (such as cost or how many credits may transfer in case you have to switch schools) and,

  • After graduation (such as employability, tuition reimbursement, and employment background checks).

Three Major Factors To Consider

Here are three major factors you should keep in mind:

Financial Aid

Students fail to receive federal financial aid if they attend an institution that is not regionally or nationally accredited. To receive federal financial aid, an institution must be a Title IV-eligible institution.

Title IV refers to the section of the Higher Education Act that oversees federal student aid.

Institutions deemed Title IV-eligible are qualified by the U.S. Department of Education. Title IV-eligible institutions can be either regionally or nationally accredited.

College Scholarships are institution-based financial aid and are provided by the college depending on the students' needs and performance. 

Transfer of Credits

Transfer of credits is a complex matter and the decision of whether to accept previous credits or not lies in the hands of the receiving institution.

In case you decide to switch college, your new institution may not accept credits from a non-accredited institution.

Nationally accredited institutions accept credits from any other Nationally accredited unit or Regionally accredited unit as well, but the transfer of credits in case you are moving from a nationally accredited school to any regionally accredited college is difficult. 

Impact on Employment

Over 50% of all employers conduct background checks and confirm the educational credentials of potential employees.

Graduating from an accredited institution assures the employers that you’ve received your degree from a legitimate institution and you possess the skills required for their organization.


Nationally Accredited Colleges rank 'better' in terms of the two most notable dimensions - Affordability and Ease of Admission.

Regionally Accredited Colleges, on the other hand, score 'better' on other criteria such as academic reputation and prestige, transfer of credit, and the widest possible acceptance by other universities.

So, depending on what factors matter the most to you, you must decide upon which type of accredited online programs to choose.

It is one of the most crucial decision one has to take, so, choose your online degree program accordingly.

Recent Articles

How to get the highest possible ACT score: A complete guide

Do College Credits Expire ? : College Credit Guide [2024]

What Is a Good SAT Score?

How to Get a Scholarship in 6 Easy Steps?

Undergraduate vs Graduate: What Is the Difference?

Time Management for College Students: 8 Helpful Tips