Accreditation (Chapter 7)

The accreditation of an online masters degree program and granting institution is crucial. In some professions, accreditation can determine whether or not you are able to practice in the field once you earn your degree.

Institutional Accreditation

In the United States, institutions of post-secondary education are accredited by regional and national agencies. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) approves various agencies that are able to accredit schools. There are several websites that can help you check a school’s accreditation. A good place to start is either the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited institutions in the U.S. or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation’s (CHEA) databases and directories.

The purpose of an accrediting agency is to ensure the quality of higher education institutions through the setting of evaluation criteria and through peer evaluations by faculty from accredited institutions. These evaluators will look at an institution’s mission, its admissions requirements, its support services and the quality of the faculty and of the education offered. In general, if an institution is accredited by an agency listed by the USDE or by CHEA, then a degree granted from that institution is more likely to carry weight. Be cautious, as there are now accrediting mills that have sub-par standards and whose accreditation is looked down upon by the USDE and the CHEA.

Specialized Accreditation

In some fields of study, accreditation of the institution and the program are necessary in order to practice within that profession. This is called specialized accreditation. Psychology, counseling, and social work are 3 such fields. In any field that involves working directly with patients or clients, you will likely need to pursue a masters degree from a program that has received specialized accreditation in additionto the institutional accreditation that the school should hold. Each of the helping professions has a governing body that administers programmatic accreditation. Check with the agency that is associated with the discipline you want to pursue for more information about properly accredited programs.

Aside from doing your own research and checking the U.S. Department of Education and Council of Higher Education Accreditation websites mentioned above, there are several red flags that can warn you of a school or program that may not be accredited. Institutions that do not have accreditation, but want it to appear as if they do, will use phrasing such as “pursuing accreditation,” “chartered,” “licensed” or “approved.” Questionable accrediting agencies may include offers to purchase accreditation and degrees, lack of physical addresses and suspiciously few assignments needed to complete a program. Essentially, if something about an agency or an institution seems off, it probably is.