What’s the Difference Between Regional Accreditation and National Accreditation?
The difference between regional accreditation and national accreditation may seem like the last thing a prospective college student has time for. But make at least a few minutes for it. Whether your school of choice is nationally accredited or regionally accredited could matter somewhere down the line, even if it’s difficult to imagine that now.
Let’s try to make this as simple as possible. There are two basic categories of accreditation:
- institutional accreditation
- programmatic accreditation
For now, let’s focus on institutional accreditation. If a college has institutional accreditation, it means that it has met the standards of the accrediting agency. It means that the facilities, the faculty, the curriculum, and the school’s practices have all passed inspection.
There are two kinds of institutional accreditation: regional accreditation and national accreditation.
Regional accreditation means just what it sounds like it means: the college has been accredited by an association in its geographic region. There are six regional accrediting agencies in the US. Every college has access to one of these six regional accrediting agencies, so no college, no matter how remote it might be, is unable to be regionally accredited because of its location.
There are also many regionally accredited online colleges. They are accredited by the association that covers the area where their home base is located.
There are six regional accreditation bodies in the United States:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Higher Education)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Commission on Technical and Career Institutions and Commission on Institutions of Higher Education)
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (The Higher Learning Commission)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Colleges)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities)
National accreditation can be a misleading term. Sometimes we are programmed to think that something with “national” in the title is automatically bigger and/or better, but in this instance, this isn’t true. National accreditation is not better than regional accreditation. In fact, for most students and most situations, regional accreditation is better than national accreditation.
National accreditation has nothing to do with location. Some schools just do not fit into the molds created by the regional accreditation associations. These nontraditional schools may have a specific focus. For example, if you want to be a hair stylist, you might go to a school that is accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences. Or they may operate from a specific religious worldview. If you want to major in Bible Studies, you might go to a school that has been accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation. Whatever the reason, if a post-secondary institution can’t, or chooses not to, become regionally accredited, it can apply for national accreditation.
Not to be a pessimist, but there are also some accreditations that mean basically nothing. Just as there are “degree mills,” there are also “accreditation mills.” If an accrediting association isn’t a reputable one, then the accreditation means nothing, and can even be seen as a red flag for the entire school. You’ll want to research any school you plan to attend thoroughly, and you’ll also want to research any accrediting associations. Again, ask professionals in your field for their insights.
Realize that colleges are not required to become accredited, and some do not.
While there are sometimes legitimate reasons not to seek accreditation, a lack of accreditation can also be a red flag. If a school has not sought out accreditation, it could mean that the school is a “degree mill.” In short, degree mills are schools that sell degrees without actually teaching students anything.
National Accreditation vs. Regional Accreditation
So what does all this mean to you?
Somewhere down the road, you might decide to change schools, which means you will want to transfer credits. If you have taken 12 classes and earned 35 credits at your first school, you will want all that hard work to count at your next school as well as toward your degree!
- Nationally accredited schools will usually accept credits from other nationally accredited schools and from regionally accredited schools. However, in general, regionally accredited colleges and universities will only transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools. In general, regionally accredited schools will not accept credits from nationally accredited schools.
- Issues also arise when students want to further their education. If you earn an associate’s degree from a nationally accredited school, but decide you want to earn a bachelor’s degree at a regionally accredited school, the second school might not recognize your associate’s degree.
- The same can happen when someone wants to go for a master’s degree. If his or her bachelor’s degree was earned at a nationally accredited school, it will be difficult to go to graduate school at a regionally accredited school. And it’s worth noting that most graduate schools are regionally accredited. While graduate school may be the furthest thing from your mind right now, you still might want to keep that door open for your future.
While considering national accreditation vs. regional accreditation, it is also worth noting that there are a few nationally accredited schools that offer really low tuition rates in order to be competitive. While these low rates may be tempting, please still consider the consequences of choosing a nationally accredited college.
Bonus: Financial Aid and Accreditation
If a school is neither regionally nor nationally accredited, you cannot get federal financial aid to go there.
Also check out: College Accreditation, in a nut shell…