As you weigh the various options to decide which online college degree program is right for you, you might come across schools that have what’s called a USDLA certification. What does this certification mean? Should you only consider schools with USDLA certification?

USDLA Certification

The United States Distance Learning Association, or USDLA, is a non-profit organization that aims to “support Distance Learning research, development and praxis across the complete arena of education, training and communications.” The organization has existed since 1987 – long before online college reached its current popularity – and in addition to college-level distance learning studies also addresses topics in pre-kindergarten, K-12, military and government training, home schooling, corporate training, telemedicine and continuing education. The USDLA awards a Quality Standards (QS) certification to schools that meet high standards in more than 120 areas, such as:

  • Administration
  • Leadership and management
  • Student affairs
  • Teaching and learning

Online colleges aren’t required to have USDLA certification to operate. It is not one of the regional or national agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as an accrediting body, although the CHEA does reference the organization’s views on distance education in a report on quality review.

Rather, USDLA certification is an optional “stamp of approval,” according to recent recipient Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida, The Daytona Times reported. While it’s no substitute for accreditation by a CHEA-recognized agency, this certification can help students feel more confident that their online program, in particular, is legitimate and credible. For the schools who receive this distinction, it’s a big deal. The president of Berkley College, which became “one of the first colleges or universities worldwide to receive this certification” in 2013, was “especially proud of the positive remarks” USDLA evaluators made about the support available to online instructors and students.

What to Look for in an Online College

USDLA QS certification is an indicator of an online program’s excellence in a number of areas. It might illustrate that the school provides exceptional support for distance learning students and faculty or that the program meets high standards of rigor. However, a QS certification – or the lack of it – doesn’t tell you all you need to know about an online college degree program.

More important than certification is accreditation. If you take all of your classes online – particularly, if you attend a school so far away geographically that you never set foot on campus – accreditation may be the only way you can be sure your online degree program is legitimate, and not a degree mill.

If you’re debating between different online colleges, a USDLA Quality Standards certification of excellence can certainly be a point in one school’s favor. However, don’t base your decision solely on whether or not a school has a QS certification. Never consider an unaccredited program just because it has this or any certification, but don’t turn down otherwise excellent choices simply because they don’t have this one credential.