The world of higher education has embraced online learning.
This is a major advantage for learners, who can pursue a variety of degrees through digital means. Yet, prospective students must also ensure they apply to accredited programs. Accreditation is a clear sign that a school meets standards for educational quality.
Accrediting bodies evaluate schools and, in some cases, individual programs. They apply a set of strict standards and conduct in-depth reviews. Only the institutions that meet these requirements receive accreditation.
Accreditation means a school aligns with the standards set by an accrediting group. The accrediting process in the U.S. has several layers:
- The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognize accrediting groups. Recognition is based on accreditors' impartial review of schools or programs.
- Accreditors thoroughly review either entire schools or specific programs. They are independent from the schools they review. If the institution or program meets the standards set, it earns accreditation.
- Schools with accreditation share this information with prospective and current students. Accreditation is a clear signal of educational quality. That means it is in schools’ best interests to highlight their accreditation.
Students interested in accredited online degree programs may want to confirm accreditation. There are several valuable resources for doing so.
The U.S. DOE maintains a general list of recognized accrediting agencies. It also offers lists of approved institutional and programmatic accrediting agencies. CHEA also maintains a list of recognized accrediting organizations. These lists will help you confirm the legitimacy of an accreditor. Some accreditors operate without oversight. This means their certification lacks value. Looking into both the accreditor and the school’s accreditation are crucial steps. CHEA also provides a search tool to identify accreditors, accredited schools and programs. This is a simple way to ensure you only apply to accredited online degree programs.
There are three types of accreditation in the U.S. Each one serves a unique purpose. They are:
- Regional accreditation.
- National accreditation.
- Programmatic accreditation.
Similarly, there are many accredited online degree programs. Understanding the type of accreditation a school or program has is critical to making an informed decision.
Regional accreditation is the gold standard. It is also the oldest type of accreditation in the U.S. A school must meet the high standards set by regional accreditors to qualify. This accreditation is usually seen with nonprofit colleges and universities focused on academics. Regional accreditation is especially powerful. A diploma of this type is generally seen as the most valuable by the public and private sectors. Credits earned at one school with this distinction are usually transferable to another. That often isn’t the case with national accreditation, which we will explore below.
Regional accreditation is divided between six regions. Each regional accreditor reviews colleges and universities in its region. For example, ASU Online is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. This may change in the future. Inside Higher Ed highlighted a recent federal rule change tied to accreditation. It allows regional accreditors to operate nationally. The change doesn’t have much impact currently. Yet, students should keep it in mind when reviewing accredited online degree programs in the future.
Programmatic accreditors focus on specific degree types and schools. These groups usually include professionals from the relevant field. The mix of standards and experience helps such accreditors conduct valuable reviews. Programmatic accreditation is common in fields with firm professional standards. Dentistry and nursing schools are two examples. It is also common in a variety of other fields, from business to engineering and architecture.
Fun fact: The ASU electrical engineering (BSE) program was the first fully online ABET-accredited program of its kind. Programmatic accreditation is a sign that a specific degree is highly regarded. Some organizations may prefer or only seek graduates from such programs. This type of accreditation is distinct from regional accreditation. Yet, it is also valuable in an academic sense.
National accreditors operate across the country. They generally focus on occupational education and often review for-profit institutions. National accreditation signals a school’s commitment to providing a useful education. Yet, it is not as esteemed as regional accreditation. The emphasis on vocational learning is different from the focus of regional accreditation.
It is often difficult to transfer credits from such an institution to a regionally accredited one. Businesses may prefer graduates who have degrees from a regionally or programmatically accredited school. Nationally accredited schools can still offer plenty of value in certain situations. Those interested in occupation-focused learning, for career choices like phlebotomist, auto mechanic and more, are a prime example. Regional and programmatic accreditation are still the most useful for academic degrees.
There is no difference between accreditation of an online program versus in-person degree program. The U.S. DOE and CHEA review accreditors based on several criteria. Those factors include their process for assessing distance learning. An online degree from an accredited institution holds the same value as one earned in person. The educational experience can differ to a degree. Students have more freedom to engage in learning on their own schedules, but the quality of education and end result are identical in the eyes of accreditors. The same is true in general for the professional world.
There is no standard, national requirement for accreditation in higher learning in the U.S. Some states and municipalities may limit unaccredited schools from operating. In some cases, schools can function as long as their leaders have the funds and desire to operate them. The lack of a national mandate means finding accredited online degree programs is vital. As a prospective student, you deserve the chance to earn a valuable and desirable degree. You can take control of this situation by learning how accreditations work and applying to schools that fit your needs.
The growth of web-based learning means students have many choices for online education. You can find the program that’s right for you, whether you’re looking for a full-time or part-time curriculum. ASU also supports more than 80 accredited online programs for graduate students. Social work, criminal justice and engineering are just a few of the many potential paths. You can find the right program for you with the ASU Online graduate degree list.
ASU Online is accredited regionally on the institutional level by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The Higher Learning Commission is recognized by the U.S. DOE, a clear sign of its ability to impartially and thoroughly review the schools in its region. ASU Online is committed to maintaining our regional accreditation to ensure a high degree of educational quality for all of our students. ASU Online also offers dozens of undergraduate and graduate degrees with programmatic accreditation. These programs span across our range of available degrees. In all, 11 schools offer programmatically accredited bachelor’s and advanced degrees. Students have opportunities to earn a programmatically accredited degree in many fields.
Taking the next step toward accredited online degree programs
ASU Online offers regionally accredited online degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. An accredited degree program online offers you flexibility and a high-quality education. Learn more about our many accredited programs through ASU Online to find the right degree for you.
ASU — Programs with Specialized Accreditation
ASU Online — Online bachelor’s degrees
ASU Online — Online graduate programs
ASU Online — ASU Online Student FAQs
Accreditation in the United States — The U.S. Department of Education
Will Regional Accreditation Go National? — Inside Higher Ed
How to Tell if an Online Program Is Accredited — U.S. News & World Report
CHEA-Recognized Accrediting Organizations —CHEA