Before choosing a school, it is important that students have a clear picture of exactly who accredits the school and what that accreditation means for their future. Students who are considering an online college or university program also should check a school's accreditation before enrolling.
To be considered eligible for ONNSFA financial aid or scholarships, students must be officially and fully admitted to a post-secondary institution accredited by one of the following regional accrediting associations:
One of the key issues concerning regional and national accrediting agencies is the transfer of credits earned. Many regionally accredited schools will not accept credits from nationally accredited schools. Courses taken at a school without regional accreditation will need to be repeated, costing more time and money.
Choosing a school or program with regional accreditation protects the student. First, some employers may not recognize a degree or certificate obtained from a non-accredited university. This puts the student at risk of unemployment while also being financially responsible for a degree many employers consider worthless.
Most regionally accredited colleges and universities do not recognize credits earned at non-accredited or nationally accredited institutions should students ever want to transfer schools. Once again, this means wasted time and money for the student on a degree or certificate other schools will not recognize.
Finally, attending a regionally accredited program protects the student from being taken advantage of by a predatory for-profit institution that doesn’t have a student's education as its first priority.
Reputable, high-quality colleges and universities, both traditional and online, make their accreditation status visible within program materials. These institutions are proud of the quality of education they offer. Most schools proudly display their accreditation in their print materials and on websites. A call to a school’s admissions or registration department would also reveal accreditation status.
Students should watch out for less-than-reputable schools using words sounding like accreditation but that do not possess regional accreditation. Some phrases students should watch out for are words like "approved," "recognized," "licensed," "registered" or other phrases that sound official but have nothing to do with a school’s accreditation status.
Students pursuing online degrees should always consider a school’s accreditation, especially if the student plans to transfer to another school at some point or the field a student is entering requires a specific degree.
However, accreditation may not always matter. Students should consider the kind of education they would like to receive. Does the student want to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree? In that case, a student should attend a regionally accredited institution. However, if a student just needs to brush up on skills such as word processing or spreadsheets, accreditation may not matter as much.
Choosing what school to attend for an online degree is a big decision. Consider all aspects of a school including cost, faculty credentials and how the school fits in with your life and schedule. Earning a degree has the power to transform your life and represents a large investment of both time and money. Knowing what accreditation means and understanding what it tells you about a school will help you make the best decision for your future.
If you are not sure if the institution or the program you are interested in is accredited, the United States Department of Education keeps a database of accredited institutions and programs accessible through its website: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.
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