Accreditation is granted to institutes of higher education which meet the strict qualifications of a third party organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. The USDE and the CHEA do not grant accreditation, but they do recognize reputable accrediting agencies and provide them with guidelines, resources and relevant data.
Accreditation is basically an assurance that the higher learning institution has adequate facilities, faculty, course requirements, and educational standards to provide the student with a legitimate education that will be beneficial to the students and potential future employers of graduates. The two most recognized accreditations are regional and national accreditations that are recognized by the USDE and the CHEA.
It is important to insure a college is regionally or national accredited to insure that you are going to receive a viable and accepted education. Accredited colleges and universities help to insure that your college credits will be transferable to another institution, as well as accepted by future employers.
Regional accreditation is probably the most important and well accepted accreditation. There are currently eight agencies that are recognized by both the USDE and the CHEA:
Prior to choosing a school, it is important to determine if they are accredited and to insure they are a recognized by the USDE and the CHEA. You can view all accrediting agencies and if they are or are not recognized at Prior to choosing a school, it is important to determine if they are accredited and to insure they are a recognized by the USDE and the CHEA. You can view all accrediting agencies and if they are or are not recognized at CHEA (pdf file).
It is important to research this yourself as some diploma mills may tell you they are accredited, but not reveal that it is not by a regionally accredited and recognized organization. Make sure to ask who they are accredited with and then take the time to determine what type of organization it is. You would be very disappointed to obtain a two year degree from a school that is not regionally accredited and then decide to return to school only to find out that none of your prior credits will transfer to your new school.
There are schools that are nationally accredited within specific educational areas such as faith based and career related institutes of higher education, however, you again need to make sure and check to see that the accreditation is recognized by the USDE and the CHEA.
National accreditation is acceptable as long as they are recognized; however, regional accreditation is the most desirable and dependable for transferability and job outlook. Be aware that some regionally accredited schools will not transfer credits from national accreditation, so make sure to do some research prior to enrolling if you have any plans to further your career in the future.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to avoid diploma mills. When you choose to attend a college that is not accredited, then you can't complain later that you didn't know their credits would not transfer. It is up to you to make sure that a college meets your needs, including if your credits will transfer if you decide to return to school at a later date, or if your degree will be recognized by employers.
Take the time to find out about accreditations. Make sure to ask your potential school if they are accredited and who they are accredited with. Then make sure to determine if that is a regional accreditation or not. If you are unsure if a school is accredited, visit the USDE database. If you are still not sure if the credits should be transferable, then call a local university and ask if they accept credits from institutes accredited by that organization.
As an adult it is now your responsibility to insure that you are getting a high quality and recognizable education. There and many things to consider when choosing a college or university to attend. Accreditation is one of the most important aspects of this choice. Hopefully, you now have a basic understanding and know where to obtain information about accreditation.