Learning, Accreditation, and Online College Degrees
by Vicky Phillips, CEO,
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
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
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
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
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
© 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.