By Andrew Monko
Why does it matter if the school you choose is accredited or not? Maybe you've wondered about accreditation in your search for an online psychology degree program.
You may have found a non-accredited school that offers an online course for substance abuse counseling that is less expensive than accredited school options. In an economic downturn, reducing your education costs can be a strong incentive. So what are the advantages of an accredited school?
Let's first consider why accreditation exists. Unlike other countries, the United States doesn't have centralized authority over post-secondary education. This gives schools of higher education a lot of autonomy and independence, which means that they can differ greatly in the kind and quality of programs they offer.
Accreditation agencies arose to provide basic standards and measurements of quality. These private, non-governmental groups initiate peer evaluations among schools at regional or national levels and have specific procedures for measuring the fundamental quality of a traditional or online course for substance abuse counseling—or any other educational program. In other words, they make sure that you get what you pay for.
Financial Aid and Online School
Say, for instance, that you want to take an online program, but need federal financial aid to help pay your online school costs. Typically schools are required to be accredited in order to participate in federal programs. The school's accrediting agency must meet criteria set by the U.S. Department of Education and be on the department's list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies.
Transferring Credits from Your Online Course
By establishing educational standards, accreditation also helps a school determine if course credits that you earned elsewhere are eligible for transfer. Keep accreditation in mind if you plan to move or change schools, or if mobility to other institutions is important. Credits from non-accredited schools may not transfer to an accredited school.
Job Eligibility and Online School
Once you've earned your degree online, you'll begin looking for a job. Some employers will consider your application only if you graduated from an accredited school. It can be illegal, in some states, to use a degree from a school not accredited by a nationally recognized accreditation agency.
Invalid Accreditation Agencies and Diploma Mills
Some organizations claim to have legitimate accreditation when in fact the accrediting agency is fraudulent. Often the school is a "diploma mill," an organization offering an invalid certification that can be purchased without coursework. To avoid the danger of being misled by an unscrupulous school, consult the "positive list" of schools accredited by agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Can Non-Accredited Schools be Trusted?
Accreditation doesn't always indicate a school's ability to offer worthy instruction. A non-accredited school can provide a high quality traditional or online course for substance abuse counseling but could be in the process of applying for accreditation, or chooses not to seek accreditation for other reasons. Students can still encounter problems even if the non-accredited school they attend has a good reputation for quality. In addition to the potential issues listed above, licensing boards and other institutions may also only accept degrees from schools accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.