School Accreditation, USA
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accreditation is the process by which a facility becomes officially
certified as providing services of a reasonably good quality, so that
the public can trust in the quality of its services.
In the United States, the term is most often used with reference to
schools and hospitals, neither of which are directly certified by the
federal government. Instead, accreditation is performed by private
nonprofit bodies known as accreditors. The Council on Higher Education
Accreditation overlooks these accreditors and provides guidelines as
well as resources and relevant data.
In contrast, in other countries, higher education institutions must
receive the permission of the government to operate, and thus
accreditation is performed by the government. For example, in
Australia, higher education providers generally need approval of the
federal or state governments (or a non-government body to whom this
power has been delegated), or an Act of Parliament, depending on the
nature of the institution. This system differs in that unaccredited
institutions are often illegal, and thus diploma mills are much less of
a problem in these countries.
Accreditation of schools in
Accreditation is very important for schools in countries that operate
under federal systems of government, like the United States of America.
Because the federal government's Department of Education currently
lacks direct plenary authority to regulate schools (in contrast to the
powerful Ministries of Education in many other countries), it cannot
vouch for the quality of any school's degree.
Therefore, educational accreditation has traditionally been done in the
U.S. by PRIVATE accreditors. These are formed, funded, and operated by
their members; obviously this puts them in an uneasy balance between
maintaining the public's trust and not kicking out too many of their
poorly performing members (who are also their source of revenue). They
are not government agencies, although they often appear to have
quasi-governmental powers to the extent that their blessing can make a
postsecondary school's students eligible for federal student aid.
In addition, under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as
amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish
a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary
determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or
training provided by the institutions of higher education and the
higher education programs they accredit.
Today, there are two major types of accreditors: regional and national
-- in spite of its name, the list of nationally recognized accrediting
agencies includes both types.
Each regional accreditor encompasses the vast majority of public and
nonprofit private schools in the region they serve. They include among
their membership nearly all elementary schools, junior high schools,
middle schools, high schools, community colleges, public universities,
and private universities.
Because of their size, prolonged existence, and visibility, the
regional accreditors have the strongest credibility of any accreditor
with each other, private employers, and the federal and state
governments. People graduating or earning credit from any regionally
accredited school usually have little difficulty having their degrees
or units recognized at other regionally accredited schools. Of course,
that assumes they can meet the other school's admission requirements,
if it has a selective admission policy.
Here is a list of the regional
* Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
* New England Association of Schools and Colleges
* North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
* Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
* Western Association of Schools and Colleges
* Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
The national accreditors include a variety of religious, professional,
and vocational accreditors, and get their name from their common policy
of accrediting schools nationwide or even worldwide. Of the
professional accreditors, the most powerful is probably the American
Bar Association; its accreditation of one's law school is a
prerequisite to sitting for the bar exam in nearly all states
(California is the famous exception). Next would probably be the
Association of American Medical Colleges for medical schools, and The
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for business
There are many other national accreditors out there, which are too
numerous to list here. These are usually formed by vocational or trade
schools whose admission requirements and curricula are not stringent
enough to qualify them for membership in the regional accreditation
organizations. The result is that most regionally accredited schools
will not accept transfer credit from most nationally accredited
schools. A few students enroll in vocational schools every year without
understanding this important distinction, and are horrified when they
discover that their units are non-transferable (after they have racked
up thousands of dollars in student loan debt).
Despite the credit transfer problem, many national accreditation
organizations for vocational schools are legitimate and the
certificates or degrees issued by their members are generally
considered to be a bona fide prerequisite for working in certain fields.
However, every year, one sees the occasional diploma mill (where both
the student and the proprietor know the student is buying fraudulent
academic credentials) or scam (where the student is not aware of the
fraud), where the "accreditor" is a post office box or Web page owned
by the proprietor of the school.
Prospective vocational students should carefully research the
credentials they will need to work in their chosen vocation, and find
out which organization is considered by employers to be the legitimate
accreditor for that field. By the time the student discovers their
selected school and its accreditor are a scam, the proprietor may have
signed up the hapless student for gigantic student loans. At that
point, the student may have few legal options available. Student loans
usually cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, it is extremely difficult
to arrange for the forgiveness of student loan debt, and few attorneys
specialize in such matters.
Religious schools have the option of four different agencies, which
include Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools(AARTS),
Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada
(ATS), Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and
Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
These groups specialize in accrediting theological schools including
seminaries and graduate schools of theology. Due to the separation of
church and government, some states are unwilling to tighten
restrictions on religious universities. Thus, some diploma mills
operate as religious universities to avoid laws against diploma mills.
Students should use caution when beginning their coursework at an
unaccredited religious school that claims they do not desire
accreditation for religious reasons.
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