Attending college online may seem risky, and online degree accreditation can be confusing when you're just starting to pursue a degree. AccreditedOnlineColleges.org aims to solve these problems by offering the web's best resource for finding online college opportunities. We are proud to host a searchable directory that will help you find the colleges that fit your educational needs.
Accreditation is a word that you've probably come across plenty of times in your college search. Many colleges use it as a buzzword in their advertisements with no real explanation of what it is or why it's so important (which it is). To help clear up any confusion, and to inform those who may not know anything about it, we've created this FAQ to address the most commonly asked questions about accreditation.
Accreditation is a voluntary process in which an independent agency evaluates a college by measuring their curriculum and practices against a strict set of education standards established by that organization.
First and foremost, accreditation ensures that the college you enroll in is going to provide a quality education. It is the easiest way to determine the validity of a program. Accreditation holds the school accountable to the public by proving they can maintain high education standards. Those guidelines are always changing, so accreditation encourages a system of constant improvement at the college. It’s also crucial for transferring credits or applying to graduate programs at another school. Most schools don’t accept credits or degrees completed at unaccredited institutions. Accreditation is also a requirement for professional licensure in most fields, and many employers won’t recognize a degree from a school that isn’t accredited.
Accreditation is especially important when searching for online degree programs. Ever since the advent of the internet, a large number of disreputable online colleges have sprung up, selling overpriced, near-worthless degrees. One of the easiest ways to avoid that is to look for accreditation. You never want to enroll in any online school that isn’t accredited by a recognized organization.
No. Again, one of the main reasons to search for a school’s accreditation is to avoid falling prey to those unaccredited institutions offering questionable college degrees. By now, most are aware of the danger of these “degree mills.” However, not all are aware of the growing threat of “accreditation mills.” These companies sell accreditation to those same disreputable colleges. Their accreditations hold the same value as the worthless degrees that they endorse. Along with researching a school's accreditation, you need to examine carefully the agency that awarded it.
The most recognized institutional accreditations are those that come from the six leading regional accrediting agencies. For accreditation purposes, the country is divided into six geographical regions. Each regional commission accredits the schools in its area. Regional accreditations are generally accepted in all other regions; however, it is up to the each school to determine which accreditations they recognize.
Those regional agencies are:
There are some national accrediting agencies as well. They tend to focus on nontraditional institutions, such as trade schools, technical colleges, or online-only education providers. Sometimes it's difficult to compare those schools to the traditional institutions that regional agencies accredit. These national bodies are a way for nontraditional schools to prove their quality while only being compared with similarly-designed colleges.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of recognized regional and national accrediting agencies. As a general rule, if the DOE doesn't recognize an organization, you probably shouldn't either. You can also get accreditation information from your state department of education website.
In most cases, the accreditation process starts with a self-study. The accrediting body provides an institution with a list of all of their standards. The school then gathers evidence that documents their adherence to those standards and a trend of continuing educational improvement. The accrediting agency's review team analyzes that evidence. Those reviewers, made up of specially-selected education professionals and industry leaders, then visit the school and write a report on what they find. Their report, along with all of the evidence provided by the college, is reviewed by a board that makes the final judgment.
There are two main types of accreditation: institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation.
Institutional accreditation ensures that the school as a whole meets specific quality standards.
Programmatic accreditation (sometimes called specialized or professional accreditation) ensures that individual departments and degree programs within that school meet educational standards set by professional associations in various industries. Not all programs need separate accreditation. Usually, only career fields that require some form of licensure mandate it, such as education, engineering, healthcare, and law.
If your chosen career field requires it, make sure that you search for programmatic accreditation in addition to institutional accreditation.
Accreditation is the first criteria for any school to be included in our database. Every one of them is verified to be accredited. If you're researching a school outside of our site, a search for "accreditation" on the school and department web page is the first place to start. Accredited schools should be quick to list their current accreditation status. If you have trouble finding their accreditation, it could be hidden for a reason. Fortunately, the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator tool has institutional accreditations included in their search results.
The same goes for program accreditation. A search of the program page should return their status. If you can’t find it, you can go directly to the source. Research the accrediting bodies for your desired career field and go to their website. Most have an online database of current accreditations.
No. Institutional and program accreditations cover both on-campus and distance learning. Accrediting bodies don’t evaluate those programs separately. To be accredited, all forms of instruction must meet their strict standards. If a school decides to offer an online course after they have already been accredited, they usually must seek approval from their accrediting body first to stay compliant.
Yes. Only students attending accredited schools are eligible to receive any federal or state financial aid.
If you spend your time and money on a degree, you need to know that it will actually net the end result - usually a job - that you desire. Accreditation helps to ensure that your education meets the standards required by potential employers or for further educational opportunities. Accreditation exists as a check on schools, ensuring that students study at legitimate institutions. A university that has been assessed by an accrediting body can provide proof that it meets the current exacting standards for higher education. As the process is expensive, accreditation also limits the extent to which disreputable educational institutions can successfully function as “diploma mills” that provide degrees with little or no educational value.
Every school on our list has been carefully checked for accreditation and we provide a list of the programs they offer and information on their accreditation for your reference.
To fairly rank the best accredited online colleges, we applied 17 objective measurements to each of the nearly 1,000 schools in our database. We grouped those individual measures into five core metrics. First, we graded and ranked the schools in each metric. We then averaged the five key metric grades to determine each college's overall rank. We chose core metrics of equal importance when deciding on an online college, and therefore weighted each of them evenly when determining that final score.
Those core metrics are:
With tuition rates on the rise nationwide, the cost of higher education is one of the primary concerns for students searching for the right college. They don’t want their financial investment to outweigh their future salary benefits. Therefore, we started by analyzing each program’s in-state per-credit tuition cost. And because many online students are non-residents, we also calculated out-of-state costs. We took an average of both rates, with the lowest receiving the highest scores.
For most employers, the reputation of the school awarding a degree is as important as the diploma itself. A degree from a disreputable school is less regarded that one from a college well known for high education standards. The reputation of the school also factors heavily in any continuing education. A quality undergraduate degree increases an applicant’s chances of being accepted into competitive graduate programs.
To determine a school's reputation, we started by analyzing where they placed on popular ranking systems. The rankings we surveyed were:
We assigned scores to each program based on their placement in these rankings. The higher the rank on those lists, the higher their score on our ranking.
Another important way to gauge the quality of a program is to see how many students complete it, rather than failing, dropping out, or transferring to a different school. Therefore, we also assigned a separate score based on each program’s graduation rate. The higher the rate, the higher the score.
Since the ultimate goal of most degree-seekers is better employment and salary, we used PayScale Early Career and Mid-Career Salary Reports to research the earnings of every program’s graduates. Those reports gave us a picture of how much students can expect to earn immediately after graduation, as well as how their salary has the potential to grow as they progress through their career. The programs with the highest earnings received the highest scores.
Too often, all of the extra salary money that comes from a college degree goes straight to paying the debt accrued during school. College is a substantial financial investment that you want to benefit from as soon possible. With that in mind, we analyzed each program’s debt and financial aid statistics. Using NCES College Navigator data, we scored each school based on:
The programs that had the greatest amount of financial aid combined with the lowest amount of future debt received higher scores from us. The lower the debt potential, the higher the score.
Additional Performance Measures
In addition to the previous metrics, we also factored in some other performance measures that we felt were important in creating the best ranking.
First, we looked at each college’s degree variety. Our recommendation wouldn’t mean much to some if the school didn’t offer the particular degree that they desired. So to make these rankings relevant to the most potential students, we assigned scores based on the total number of online degree programs available at each school. The more programs they offered, the higher they scored.
We then researched each school’s student-to-faculty ratio. A smaller ratio means greater potential for personalized instruction and learning. Numerous studies have shown that student achievement increases as class size decreases. That lower ratio takes on even more importance with online education. For some students, distance learning has the potential to seem impersonal since they aren’t in a classroom physical interacting with the professor and their fellow students. A smaller ratio increases the chances that a student will get the personal, virtual attention they need to counteract any of those feelings. So in this metric, the smaller the student-to-faculty ratio, the higher the score.
Want to know where to go to college in your state? We've got you covered! Our state pages compile data for every accredited college in the nation. Use these guides to learn what online programs are offered in your state and details about each college.
Every year, thousands of students research colleges and universities to find academic programs and determine the overall quality of the institution. In some cases, this is fairly easy. Many traditional brick-and-mortar schools have years to …
You can search our database in a number of different ways, including one or a combination of the following:
You can also browse listings for each state in the U.S. independently.
You may find that you create a search so specific that it does not return any results. If this happens to you, consider making your search broader.
Many accredited higher educational institutions offer online programs to meet the growing demand for online study, and while not every subject is best suited for online courses, programs often compare favorably to traditional study.
Verifying accreditation is a vital step, but there is more to finding the ideal school for you among the huge numbers of accredited online universities out there. Take your time researching potential schools and making your choice.