College Accreditation - Regional vs National Accreditation

regional national accreditationWhen choosing which school to attend, it's important to find a college or university that is accredited. Accreditation means that a school has been evaluated by education authorities, to ensure it's offering high quality learning opportunities.

Accreditation is not a "one size fits all" concept. There are different types - including regional, national and specialized accreditation. Once you understand the different classifications, you'll be better equipped to make the college choice that's right for you!            


Regional Accreditation

If an online college chooses to apply for regional accreditation, it is evaluated by the regional agency that presides over its home state. These are the only six bodies that can award regional accreditation, and they're all recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). You can learn more about these regional accrediting agencies, including which schools they accredit, by visiting their individual Web sites.

In the United States, there are six regional accrediting agencies that each cover a different section of the country. They include:

Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools

Featured Accredited Schools:

New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Featured Accredited Schools:

North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

Featured Accredited Schools:

Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges

Featured Accredited Schools:

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Featured accredited schools:

Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Featured accredited schools:

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Colleges) - See more at:

National Accreditation


National accreditation is not based on geography, rather it was designed to evaluate specific types of schools and colleges. For example, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) evaluates career schools and technology programs, while the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) accredits colleges that offer distance education.

Often, schools apply for national accreditation when their model of instruction or their course content is different from most "traditional" degree programs. Regional accrediting agencies may not be able to compare a career school with a liberal arts college, because the modes of study are so dissimilar. However, national accreditation allows nontraditional colleges (trade schools, religious schools, certain online schools) to be compared against similarly designed institutions. Different standards and categories are measured, depending on the type of school in question.

Specialized Accreditation

Specialized accreditation, also known as program-based accreditation, is awarded to specific programs or departments within a college or university. Specialized accreditation is offered by agencies that represent specific fields of study or profesional organizations. These agencies do not accredit entire colleges. Instead, they accredit the programs within certain colleges that prepare students for their industry.

Professionals should also investigate specialized accreditation -- including students who study medicine, engineering, dentistry, nursing, or law as they generally need to graduate from a program with specialized accreditation:

  • American Medical Association (AMA) accredits medical programs
  • Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits engineering programs
  • American Dental Association (ADA) accredits dentistry programs.
  • National Nursing League (NLN) accredits nursing programs
  • American Bar Association (ABA) accredits law school programs
  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits business and accounting programs

Issues to Consider

Transferability of Credits

While nationally accredited institutions will usually accept credit from regionally or nationally accredited institutions, regionally accredited schools often do not accept credit from nationally accredited institutions.Considering that state colleges and universities are all regionally accredited, and that state schools are an inexpensive local option for many students, this is definitely something to keep in mind.

Tuition Cost

Another important issue is cost. There are a few nationally accredited schools that may be inexpensive, and low tuition rates can be enticing. However, if you're eligible for financial aid and scholarships, you may be able minimize the cost difference that comes with a regionally accredited school.

Acceptability by Prospective Employers

Realistically speaking, most employersmay not know the difference between the two types of accreditation. However, if you do run into concerns about your school or its accreditation, you may want to direct your employer to the U.S. Department of Education's Web page on accreditation issues.

If you have a specific employer in mind, you might want to ask a Human Resources employee about the school(s) you are considering.