What is Accreditation in Colleges and Universities?

Accreditation is a process by which higher learning institutions get evaluated on their education standards by a board of members from various universities and colleges. The importance of accreditation and the outcomes of joining an unaccredited institution is explained in detail in the article.

Updated by Theres Ann on 26th February 2019

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is the process by which quality of learning at various educational institutions are evaluated. Accreditation standards are established by a peer review board, whose members are representatives of already accredited institutions. The Peer Review Board functions to grant accreditation to unaccredited institutions and also to renew the accreditations of the already accredited institutions.

Criteria for assessment of the quality of education includes the overall mission of the college, objectives, and goals, student requirements for admissions, service availability to students, quality of education and reputation of the faculty.

What is Accreditation?

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Why is accreditation important?

Choosing the best college is a wise decision a student can make for a bright career. Accreditation is the guarantee that the program of the institution has been verified by experts and is proven trustworthy and of a high standard. Moreover, accreditation is a quality assurance system across institutions in the United States.

The quality of an accrediting agency is ensured by the  USDE and the CHEA. USDE is the United States Department of Education and CHEA is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. There are various USDE and CHEA recognized agencies that offer accreditations for a variety of programs. Furthermore only accredited institutions can take part in the financial aid programs and offer employer tuition assistance. 

The credit transfers of students happen only in an accredited environment. Employers search for prospective employees from an accredited institution. Students are eligible to sit for the certification exam only if they are from an accredited institution.

What is Accreditation in Colleges and Universities?

Phases in Accreditation

There are different types of accreditation that can be granted to an institution. They are given below.

  • Provisional Accreditation - This accreditation is granted to an institution if its resource allocation is implemented as planned, and holds accreditation-provisional status to perform with continued quality. Provisional accreditation is valid only until accreditation continued is achieved.

  • Continued Accreditation - When a currently accredited program performs in compliance with the standards, then continued accreditation is achieved. Until the program closes or withdraws from the accreditation standards, the accreditation continued status remains in effect.

  • Clinical Postgraduate Program Accreditation - When a newly introduced clinical accreditation program is in compliance with the Standards of the Clinical Postgraduate Program Accreditation, then the program is eligible to attain the Clinical Postgraduate program accreditation.

  • Probation Accreditation - Temporary accreditation which is limited to two years is offered when the quality of the program offered is a doubt. If the quality of the program doesn’t improve even after being placed in the probation category, the accrediting agency is provided all rights to remove the accreditation of the program. 

  • Administrative Probation Accreditation - When the administrative standards of the institution such as fee-payments, report submission and more are not met, then the institution is granted administrative probation accreditation.

  • Accreditation Withheld - Even after the probation accreditation, the accreditation standards of the institution are not met then the accreditation of the institution/program is withheld and is placed in the accreditation withheld phase.

  • Voluntary Inactive status - Programs that cease instruction is placed under the Voluntary Inactive Status.

Accreditation status of an institution/program

To check if an institution (online/offline) is accredited you can cross-check it the United States Department of Education.

  • An easy and customized search is available at the Department of Education Website. Students can search via institution name or check from the list drops down.

  • Checking the six main regional accrediting agencies including Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Western Association of Colleges and Schools, and, New England Association of Colleges and Schools can provide further insights. 

  • The college or university can be contacted directly.

Purdue University Accreditationsource - pexels.com

What if an institution is unaccredited?

An unaccredited institution is not eligible for financial aid. The required quality of education is also not maintained. Credits aren’t offered in the right way. You get credits for very low-quality work. An unaccredited institution has a name that is more similar to a well-known college or university.

Before applying to any university make sure that you have verified the accreditation of the course. Also, make sure that the accrediting agency is also recognized.

If the institution loses accreditation in the middle of your course, then you might stop receiving your federal aid thereafter.

As credit transfer from an unaccredited institution is hard, students might also find it difficult to seek another admission.

Be hopeful if your institution has lost its accreditation after you have started your course. You’ll still be viewed as a graduate from an accredited institution.

However, you might not get your college fee refunded if the college has lost its accreditation.

It's a student’s freedom to sue an institution for losing its accreditation. Though there were successful cases, it is not advised to proceed against the institution in the court.


  What is the aim of accreditation?

Accreditation ensures that the program or institution offers quality education and that the quality is maintained throughout the years.

  Who accredits the institutions?

Institutional or programmatic accreditations for an institution are received from the agencies accredited by the United States Department of Education and Council of Higher Education Accreditation. 

  Name a few accrediting agencies.

The most widely accepted accrediting agencies include Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and North Central Association (NCA).

  What is the difference between programmatic accreditation and institutional accreditation?

Institutional accreditation is granted to educational institutions based on the quality of education that they impart compared. Programmatic accreditation is granted by the specific-subject agencies based on the quality of the program that is delivered in comparison to the standards set by the agency.

  Can credits be transferred from an unaccredited institution?

Though credits can be transferred from an unaccredited institution, the credits may not be accepted by all the institutions. The credit transfer policy of each institution varies.

  If the institution loses accreditation after the student has enrolled, will he/she still receive an unaccredited badge?

The student who enrolled before the institution lost its accreditation can always seek the benefits of an accredited institution.

  Would students from unaccredited institutions receive financial aid?

Students from unaccredited institutions will not receive the financial aids.