If you already know to make sure an online college is accredited before you enroll, you’re ahead of the curve. Accreditation of online college degree programs matters because it’s your way of knowing that the degree program is legitimate and that the education you receive will prepare you for your career. However, knowing what kind of accreditation to look for is an entirely different challenge. Are you looking for regional accreditation, national accreditation or something else?

National vs. Regional Accreditation

Not all accrediting agencies are considered equally reliable. That’s why researching a school’s accreditation before enrolling is essential. Generally speaking, regional accreditation is held in higher regard than national accreditation, though the United States federal government does recognize accrediting agencies of both kinds.

Part of the reason you should look for regionally accredited schools instead of nationally accredited schools is because of the standards a college must meet to achieve accreditation. “The standards are like night and day,” a representative of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers told The Florida Times-Union, and they include factors like the level of education of instructors.

Regional Accreditation

As the name implies, regional accrediting agencies focus on colleges in a specific region of the country. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes the following regional accreditation organizations:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC-WASC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WASC-SCUC)

National Accreditation

Many schools with national accreditation are also for-profit institutions. Often, the credits and courses completed at these schools can’t be transferred to regionally accredited schools, a problem which has prompted some lawsuits between students and their nationally accredited colleges in the past.

The United States Department of Education recognizes the following general national accrediting agencies, as well as dozens of specific national accreditation bodies:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
  • Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • United States Distance Learning Division (USDLA)

Other Types of Accreditation

The United States Department of Education reported that there are two types of accreditation. Both regional and national accreditation fall under the category of “institutional” accreditation, meaning that the accreditation extends to the entire school, not only to individual programs. You also need to be aware of “specialized” or “programmatic” accreditation, which applies to specific degree programs. In many industries, students must earn a degree from a program accredited by a professional organization in the field to earn a license.

While it may seem like a lot of details to remember, choosing a school with the right accreditation is important for your future success outside the (virtual) classroom.