When researching and comparing colleges, it can be all too easy to focus on things like tuition cost and program length while overlooking other critical factors such as a school’s accreditation status. Accreditation acts as a seal of approval for colleges and their underlying degree programs. Whether the coursework is taught on-campus or online, accreditation is a surefire sign a school has achieved benchmark quality standards.
And while many schools now offer online medical and healthcare programs that match the quality of their campus offerings, prospective students may still second guess the legitimacy of online education. Ensuring a school holds proper accreditation can help eliminate any lingering doubts. Keep reading to learn why accreditation is so important to your academic and professional career, what types of accreditation are awarded to schools, who the main accreditors are in healthcare education, and how to confirm a school’s accreditation status step-by-step.
Why You Should Care About Accreditation
Lack of accreditation can cause significant problems for students, both while in school and down the road once they graduate. Here are the four main reasons you should care about attending a properly accredited school.
What Are the Different Types of Accreditation for Online Colleges?
When determining whether a school maintains appropriate accreditation, remember that two main types exist: institutional and programmatic. The former takes a look at the school as a whole to ensure the campus-wide environment contributes to desired learning outcomes. According to the Higher Learning Commission, metrics measured may include academic programs, financial health, availability of resources, and success of governance and administration. Programmatic accreditation, conversely, looks at specific degree programs and academic departments to ascertain whether each meets set benchmarks for preparing students to find success – and obtain the necessary credentials – in particular career fields.
There are two main categories of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Different types of educational institutions usually seek different types of accreditation. It’s important to note that the U.S. Department of Education and private organizations like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation don’t directly accredit schools. Instead, they recognize and endorse agencies that are responsible for granting accreditation.
Institutional accreditation focuses on evaluating entire schools, but programmatic accreditation goes deeper by examining specific departments or degree programs. It ensures that the curriculum and faculty effectively prepare students for their future careers. To understand the importance of attending a school with programmatic accreditation, imagine yourself as a hiring manager. If you had two candidates—one with a degree from a program that maintained accreditation and the other from an unaccredited program—which would you be more inclined to hire?
Primary Accreditors for Online Medical and Health Programs
Because programmatic accreditation exists for specific disciplines and departments, many different agencies exist within the medical and health program space. Check below to find the main programmatic accreditor for some of the most popular medical and health academic fields.
|Area of Study||Primary Programmatic Accreditor|
|Medical Billing and Coding|
Accreditation Must-Haves for Online Colleges
- Holds institutional accreditation from an organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Holds programmatic or institutional accreditation that satisfies any state licensing and professional certification requirements for your career field.
How Do I Check If an Online College Is Accredited?
Before going too far down the path of picking a college, check that the schools on your list maintain proper institutional and/or programmatic accreditation. You can follow this 3-step process to check a school’s accreditation status.
Diploma and Accreditation Mills: Know the Warning Signs
While many colleges and universities exist to provide quality educations to learners, a few bad players try to fraudulently make money off over-trusting students. These schools, known as diploma mills, promise fast and cheap degrees but deliver worthless pieces of paper. Accreditation mills aid in these nefarious efforts by pretending to evaluate schools. If unsure whether you might be falling prey to one of these dishonest groups, review the warning signs in this section.
The school uses words that sound official
Many degree mills use impressive words such as “verified”, “recognized”, or “approved” that make students think they maintain accreditation without doing so. Ensure that any school uses the word “accredited” before ever filling out an application.
The school is accredited, but not by an approved agency
After ascertaining whether or not the institution/program has received accreditation, visit the U.S. Department of Education or Council on Higher Education Accreditation to ensure one of these agencies recognizes the accrediting body. Many accrediting mills possess important sounding names so students don’t question their validity.
Tuition exists in flat fee payments
If a school discusses degree programs in a transactional manner (e.g. “For just $3,000, you’ll receive a degree!”), be wary. The vast majority of universities charge tuition rates based on per-credit fees. Legitimate universities also view the conferrence of a degree as more than a simple transaction, so be careful when you see this type of language.
A lack of interest in previous education
If a school doesn’t ask about schools you previously attended, classes taken, or GPA achieved, rethink your decision to move forward in the process. Schools concerned about integrity and rigor want to ensure that any student they accept possesses legitimate education credentials.
How Does an Online College Become Accredited?
Schools and programs must go through an extensive and rigorous process to receive accreditation. Here’s what the process typically entails:
Once a school becomes familiar with the accreditation standards, it needs to assess its existing offerings and procedures. If any deficiencies are identified, the school must take the necessary steps to address them and make the required changes.
2. Apply for accreditation
Once a school is prepared for the review process, it should apply for accreditation to the institutional or programmatic agency that fits its goals. The application process requires an extensive package of supporting materials and paperwork, so this process can take some time.
3. Schedule an evaluation
After receiving and approving an application, the accrediting agency pulls together an unbiased team of evaluators who visit the school, meet with members of the learning community, and evaluate the current state of the institution. Visitors may also observe classes, ask for additional documentation, or seek further interviews.
Once all the required information is collected, a team of evaluators thoroughly reviews everything to determine if the school or program meets all the requirements. If there are any outstanding concerns, the evaluators provide a list of those concerns and suggest ways to address them. On the other hand, if the school or program successfully meets all the requirements, the panel recommends granting accreditation by the agency.
5. Receive accreditation
After meeting all requirements, schools and programs receive recognition for adequately preparing students in the form of accreditation. Schools must participate in review sessions at appropriate times to maintain their accreditation. Most require reviews every 5-10 years.
Additional Resources on Accreditation
Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs: Students can go here to find the official list of institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Accreditation in the United States: This site provides a centralized listing of valuable, official accreditation resources straight from the U.S. Department of Education.
Diploma Mills and Accreditation: Students seeking more information about this deceitful practice can review the U.S. Department of Education’s webpage on how to identify and report diploma mills.
12 Common Questions and Answers about Accreditation: Berkeley City College provides this informative resource for students who still have a few questions about the accreditation process.
Council for Higher Education Accreditation: Students can use the CHEA website to find a database of accredited institutions and programs, review publications and research, and learn more about the accreditation process.