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Article: Online Education and Accreditation

When you are researching online schools to find a program that fits your needs, one thing you will want to make sure you examine is the accreditation of that particular program. Accreditation means that the school in question has met a set of national standards that ensures the quality of the program. These standards are named and agreed upon by a ruling body that specializes in characteristics of a quality educational program. For example, one such ruling body is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS has jurisdiction over all colleges and universities, online or otherwise, in ensuring that their programs meet the national standards. In order for online schools to earn their accreditation, they must show that their programs offer a sufficient amount of quality hours as well as test their students for mastery of program benchmarks. The accreditation process is arduous and extensive, and online programs must complete this process every ten years. To enforce the value of the accreditation process and status, many employers will only recognize a degree earned through an accredited institution. We will discuss the value of accreditation as well as the importance of choosing an accredited program for you.

Who does the accrediting? National or regional private agencies known as "Accrediting Organizations" develop guidelines and perform evaluations. The Organizations assess whether or not the established guidelines are being met by peer institutions. Institutions that apply for and meet the Accrediting Organization's standards receive accreditation from that Organization. There are two types of accreditation, one is "Institutional" and the other is "Programmatic or Specialized." Regional or National Accrediting Organizations perform institutional accreditation. Programmatic and/or Specialized accreditation usually applies to programs, schools, or departments that are part of an institution. The most widely recognized form of accreditation in the United States for degree programs is "Regional Accrediting." All six Regional Accrediting Organizations are considered equal and participating institutions generally view degrees and credits earned as such. Acceptance of students or courses taken is always the choice of the receiving institution. Regulated by state or national licensing boards, some college departments hold special accreditation, such as the American Bar Association accreditation. Programmatic or Specialized Accreditation can also apply to programs within a non-educational setting, such as a hospital. You will find that some professional, specialized, and vocational institutions are accredited by a Specialized or Professional Accrediting Organization.

Also, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is a widely recognized United States accrediting agency for distance earning colleges. The DETC is a clearinghouse of information about distance education and sponsors a nationally recognized accrediting agency: The Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council. The DETC promotes educational standards and ethical business practices within the distance study field. Keep in mind, however, that credits and degrees earned from DETC institutions may not be accepted by regionally accredited institutions. There are colleges and universities that offer distance learning programs that are not accredited by any recognized agency. The programs offered are often very specialized programs, such as Web design or computer software training. It may not be important to you that the program or training you desire is unrecognized by any of the above-mentioned accrediting organizations. However, if you are looking to increase your compensation through your employer for completing your online degree program, accreditation is a very important factor to consider. The online schools that you examine should mention their accredited status upfront, if they have attained it. If you are unsure of their status and can not find it listed in their program information, asking a school representative should give you the answer you are looking for.

-Kelly Robison