Much has been made of the issues surrounding credits from schools that are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). Because there are some traditional schools that still do not accept transfer credits from schools that have institutional accreditation rather than from one of the six regional accreditors, the standard argument has been that to be safe, you should always attend a school that is regionally accredited rather than consider one that is accredited by a national accreditor such as DETC.
The flaw in this advice is that it doesn’t conform to each individual’s specific situation. The education you receive by going through a degree program is meant to help you reach a personal or professional goal. Not everyone’s goal is the same, and therefore not every type of degree is ideal for everyone.
DETC is recognized by the US Department of Education and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as an institutional accreditor, and has had this recognition for decades. Elearners recently sat down with the DETC’s executive director, Mike Lambert, to discuss credit transfers and the accreditation process in general.
According to Mr. Lambert, becoming accredited by the DETC is a much more intense and rigorous process than qualifying for a regional accreditation.
The DETC accreditation process works as follows. Each program is reviewed by expert from regionally accredited universities. We send them materials, and they have to rate them on something like 82 points. We ask them to rate the program on points such as: is the content of the textbooks the most current and up to date available, are the depth and rigor of the examinations comparable to what you’d find in your college classroom? In total, we ask around three hundred questions.
The experts we use are independent professors at other universities around the nation and we pay them an honorarium to do this. We ask them to review programs in their discipline, so if you are teaching IT or you are teaching phlebotomy or whatever you’re teaching, these professors get the textbooks, the access codes to the online programs and platforms. We ask them to essentially become a student, look at everything, take our rating forms and fill out and return them. We get 30-page reports on every program, and have hundreds and hundreds of people in our database to do these reviews.
Regional vs. National Accreditation
To many, a regional accreditation is considered to be more prestigious than a national one. According to Mr. Lambert, it is because regionals have been around longer and thus accredit esteemed schools such as Stanford or Duke. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a regional accreditation is better than a national one.
The regional accreditors do a fine job, I’m not going to sit here and knock them. They do what they do very, very well. But when it comes to online learning and distance education learning, there is no agency in the country that can match DETC for its experience, the quality of its standards, the specificity of its standards, the rigor of its standards, because they’re all calibrated to the distance education system. They’re not generally applied across a large-campus university, they’re focused right in there like a laser beam on distance learning techniques, knowledge, and methods.
We are recognized by the Secretary of Education, have been for 50 years, and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, have been for 10 years, since they came into being. So we have the same recognitions as any of the six regionals. We have much more rigorous, specific standards when it comes to distance learning and we have matched them point by point on their academic standards so that you could not say well, DETC’s standards are weaker than the regional standards for faculty, or for curricula. You can’t say that anymore; we match them. So, the idea that one form of accreditation is superior to another, I would treat that with great suspicion.
Generally speaking, it is driven into us from a very early age that a going to college and getting the best education money can buy will lead to success. At times, schools have used this credo as a marketing tool.
There’s a lot of content on the web about online learning and distance education, not all of it is accurate and some of it is downright harmful and misleading. The thing people need to understand about enrolling in an online program or course is there really has to be a very tight match between their particular individual goals, career goals and the program being offered. If the student doesn’t know what she wants to do, she is going to waste a lot of money and incur a lot of debt getting something that’s not going to help her. I think that the biggest point to start with is to ask the prospective student, “What is your goal?”
We have told the world that everybody should have an academic degree. In fact, the entire policy of some big organizations, some unions, employers, and the military has been that everybody should have a degree. And on the face of it that sounds pretty legitimate. But the harsh reality is not everybody needs a degree and not everybody is qualified or prepared to undertake the rigors of degree study. So then you have this awfully sad disconnect between what the people are telling you and what you really should be doing.
This goes deep into the American psyche about the way to a better life is through education. And who could argue with that? But my point is you need to refine that advice and say yes you need an education, but no it may not necessarily be getting an academic degree. Maybe you’re better off with a credential or some training, some certificates that will get you where you want to go.