What is the Purpose of Regional Accreditation?
Schools undergo a quality assessment conducted by outside observers who are not connected with the college or university itself in order to obtain regional accreditation. Students benefit from regional accreditation as it ensures that they receive a high-quality education, as well as eligibility for government loans and grants. Taxpayers, meanwhile, can view accreditation as an assurance that their tax dollars are sent to reputable institutions. Teachers can consider working at an accredited college or university a mark of professional excellence, ensuring that their work and employer are viewed positively by other academics. The college itself, finally, can benefit from accreditation processes as they provide an outside check on the quality of their educational policies and institutional goals.
Differences Between Regional and National Accreditation
Regional accreditation is the primary form of accreditation for traditional colleges and universities in the U.S. Six major regional accrediting agencies exist, each covering a different region of the country, ensuring that schools in that region meet high standards for student opportunities and achievement.
National accreditation, on the other hand, is designed for schools that do not provide traditional degree programs. Organizations that exclusively offer distance learning courses, or which function primarily as career and technology schools, often seek this kind of accreditation instead. This ensures that their programs are compared to other online and distance-learning schools, rather than to traditional universities, which offer very different educational opportunities.
What are the Major Regional Accreditation Agencies?
- The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) accredits schools in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. It also accredits schools in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is the primary accrediting body for schools operating in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.
- The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) accredits colleges and universities in most Midwestern states, as well as some states in the American Southwest. Most of this accreditation is carried out by the Higher Learning Commission, as other parts of the organization work with other types of schools.
- The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is the primary accrediting organization for universities and colleges in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is the primary accrediting body for schools in Texas and the southeastern part of the U.S.
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits schools in California and Hawaii. It also provides accreditation for schools in several American island territories that are not part of any state.
What areas do accreditation agencies generally evaluate at a school?
Accrediting agencies consider legal and organizational concerns, faculty qualifications, educational programs, the student body and operating procedures when evaluating a school for accreditation. An institution that can meet all of the following requirements is eligible for regional accreditation.
- Legal and organizational concerns. The first step in the accreditation evaluation consists of some fairly simple checks on the structure of the institution. For instance, accrediting agencies check whether a given school has a governing board of at least five members that is responsible for the quality of the education offered; whether the school is legally able to provide degrees in the geographic area in which it is based; and whether the school has a chief executive officer and administration. Before any other evaluations are made, these simple questions are answered.
- Faculty qualifications. Next, an accrediting body looks at the faculty of the institution. While it is acceptable to have adjunct faculty and graduate students in teaching roles, the institution should also employ full-time, professional faculty in appropriate numbers for the size of the student population. Faculty workloads must also be reasonable, and the institution must support the professional growth of the faculty by allowing them to conduct high-level academic research in their areas of specialization.
- Educational programs. The educational programs are the next target of an evaluation. They must be based on recognized fields of study, and of appropriate length to cover the core concepts in those fields. Additionally, schools specializing in certain fields must have appropriate educational resources for those fields and be pursuing specialized or national accreditation where available.
- Student body. Some standards for accreditation are applied to the student body as well. In order to protect students, the school must have an appropriate admissions policy. Students must consistently achieve excellence in their programs, and all of the degree and certificate programs must ensure that students graduate with key competencies in their respective fields.
- Operating Procedures. Finally, an accrediting body will examine the operating procedures and resources of the school. For instance, the school must be able to fund its degree programs appropriately. It must also have been in operation for at least one year, and have clearly demonstrated effectiveness in its educational pursuits.
Directory of State Accreditation
The following is a directory of state accrediting agencies which you can use to learn more about the accreditation process in your state.