Distance Learning, Accreditation, and Online College Degrees

by Vicky Phillips, CEO,
GetEducated.com, LLC

Source: http://www.geteducated.com

What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning is any learning that takes place with the instructor and student geographically remote from each other. Distance learning may occur by surface mail, videotape, interactive TV, radio, satellite, or any number of Internet technologies such as message boards, chat rooms, and desktop computer conferencing.

What Is Accreditation?

Accreditation is the independent review of educational programs for the purpose of helping to establish that the learning offered is of a uniform and sound quality.

Why Might Accreditation Be Important?

Accreditation will be important if you seek to have a public record of your learning that will be widely accepted by employers, professional associations, and other colleges and universities.

Types of Institutional Accreditation

In the United States the most widely recognized form of university accreditation comes from the regional accreditation boards. Harvard University is regionally accredited. Ohio University is regionally accredited. Stanford University is regionally accredited ... and so on.

When people ask if you have attended an "accredited university" in the United States, they most commonly mean a regionally accredited university.

The Six Regional Accreditation Boards

Each of the 6 geographic regions of the United States has a non-governmental, regional agency that oversees and accredits degree-granting institutions headquartered in their territories.

The six regional accreditation boards are: MSA--Middle States Association; NASC--Northwest Association of Schools & Colleges; NCA--North Central Association of Colleges & Schools; NEASC--New England Association of Schools & Colleges; SACS--Southern Association of Colleges & Schools; WASC--Western Association of Schools & Colleges.

There is no better or worse agency among these 6 agencies. Regionally accredited colleges recognize degrees and credits earned at other regionally accredited institutions as equal to their own.

For example, if you earn an undergraduate or bachelorís degree at one regionally accredited college, such as the University of Maryland, it will be recognized as a valid degree for entering a graduate program later at the University of Illinois or any other regionally accredited university.

Advantages of Attending a Regionally Accredited College

A major benefit of attending a regionally accredited college is that credits or degrees earned at one regionally accredited institution are generally fully accepted in transfer by other regionally accredited colleges. Credits and degrees earned at non-regionally accredited universities are not commonly accepted in transfer by regionally accredited institutions.

Other Types of Widely Recognized Institutional Accreditation

The Distance Education & Training Council (DETC) is a nationally recognized accreditation agency for colleges and schools that specialize in distance learning. The DETC, founded more than 75 years ago, accredits more than 70 home study institutions.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS) is another widely recognized institutional accrediting agency.

What Is Programmatic Accreditation: Do I Need It?

Academic departments within universities often seek specialized accreditation for individual degree programs. Careers regulated by state licensing may require degrees that carry special programmatic accreditation.

Teacher licensing boards may require degrees earned from colleges whose education schools are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). State bar or lawyer licensing regulatory boards often require law degrees from schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). If you hope to become licensed engineer you may have to attend an engineering degree program that is accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering Technology (ABET).

Three different agencies in the United States specialize in accrediting business schools. Among these agencies, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools Business International (AACSB) is considered, by academics themselves, the most prestigious type of business school accreditation. If you intend to pursue a career in teaching or research in a university environment then an AACSB-accredited business degree may be a wise investment.

State Approved Universities

There is currently a big boom in "state approved" schools offering degrees via distance learning, especially from California. Many states regulate private training and trade schools by putting them through a state approval process. This process is not the same as accreditation. Sometimes it simply means that a license to do business has been granted.

A "state approved" distance learning college may meet your career needs; it may provide sound training, but degrees earned from unaccredited universities are not widely accepted in the academic world. Degrees earned at "state approved" colleges may not be accepted for transfer and admission at regionally accredited colleges.

What Is a Diploma Mill?

Degree mills, also known as diploma mills, are bogus universities that sell college diplomas Ė the piece of paper itself rather than the educational experience. Diploma mills literally crank out paper diplomas to anyone who pays the requested "tuition" amount Ė generally a lump sum of about $2,000, though sometimes much more.

In many states the term "college" or "university" is not legally restricted to use by accredited agencies. This means that virtually anyone might legally declare himself or herself "a university" and begin issuing degrees almost overnight.

Diploma mills have existed for decades. They employ high-pressure salesmen who specialize in aggressive telephone sales. Some diploma mills have been in operation for decades. They avoid prosecution by changing their state of operation, by changing their name or by locating themselves in states or foreign countries with the lamest educational laws.

Diploma mills prey on peopleís lack of knowledge and confusion about accreditation.

One favorite trick that works time and again for diploma mills is to advertise as being "nationally accredited" or "accredited worldwide." The trick here is that are indeed "accredited" -- but by unrecognized agencies -- bogus accrediting agencies that they themselves have created.

Steps to Protect Yourself

If youíre considering an online university, ask the following questions before you enroll:

1. Are Your Accredited?

2. If So, By Whom?

Is the accrediting agency a recognized agency? Accreditation by an unrecognized agency is a common ploy used by online diploma mills. In the United States, the Council for Higher Education is the agency that oversees legitimate accrediting agencies. CHEA maintains a directory of recognized accrediting agencies online, http://www.chea.org.

3. Understand the Type of Accreditation You Need

Attend only those online colleges that hold the type of accreditation you need to advance.

4. Verify Accreditation

Some degree mills lie about their accreditation status. Take the time to verify all accreditation information. Check with CHEA or check the official printed guide to such matters: The American Council on Educationís "Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education." This guide can be found in most college libraries.

Locating Online Colleges through Search Engines

Your chosen online university appears as a top listing at your favorite search engine. It seems to appear on every portalís educational page. It has to be a real university, right?


A top search engine listing is not an indicator of authenticity or academic quality. A top search engine listing is an indicator of heavy spending on online advertising. At some search sites the majority of online college listings are held by unaccredited or bogus colleges.

Anyone can create a bogus college Web site and submit the resulting URL to a search engine. Search engines do not inspect online colleges to determine their accreditation status or academic validity.

Search engines and most online educational portals accept college listings without checking on accreditation status or academic integrity. Diploma mills and fake colleges advertise heavily on the Internet. Protect yourself by taking the time to verify the accreditation status of all online universities.


© 2004 GetEducated.com, LLC. For more tips on how to find accredited online degrees consult the 100% FREE downloadable PDF college guidebook series, GetEducated.comís Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools and GetEducated.comís Best Distance Learning Undergraduate Schools, http://www.geteducated.com. All colleges profiled inside GetEducated.comís free guidebook series are verified as accredited by CHEA recognized agencies.

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