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What Is Accreditation? Everything You Need To Know

By DeVry University

July 9, 2020
8 min read

Starting on a new academic journey can be the first step toward a rewarding and dynamic future. But first, you have to decide which university you will attend. In today’s world, there’s no shortage of options.

Whether you’re looking at certificateassociatebachelor’s or master’s programs, you’ll find an almost overwhelming number of universities to choose from. But aside from typical criteria like program area and tuition costs, what else should you look for? And how do all of these universities measure up?

One factor that can help you narrow down your options is accreditation. You’ve probably heard people talk about this, and you know it’s important. But exactly what is accreditation and why does it matter?

In this article, we’ll break down the college accreditation types, how colleges qualify for accreditation and the benefits in detail to help you in your university selection process. 

What Is Accreditation?

Think of it as a stamp of approval. Accreditation provides prospective students with insight into the accomplishments of a university as well as its ability to deliver on its promises. It is a form of quality assurance to ensure that the university has the resources and faculty necessary to effectively educate students. In the United States, quality assurance is the shared responsibility of state agencies that license or authorize colleges and universities to operate, as well as accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), as well as the USDE, are responsible for the recognition of accreditation. Each group ensures that the college or university being evaluated has proven to be fairly and effectively serving its students.

However, the process is far more involved than simply reviewing an application form. NACIQI and the USDE each research the quality of the education, coursework and student learning outcomes. They will also determine if the university’s faculty has the proper amount of expertise to educate students in their specific area of study.

In the United States, institutional and specialized or programmatic accrediting organizations are recognized by the USDE or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or both. The accreditors are private, non-governmental organizations created for the specific purpose of reviewing higher education institutions and programs for quality.

How Do You Determine if a University Is Accredited?

If you’re unsure if a university and its programs are accredited, you can look it up at The types of accreditations to look for include:

  • Institutional accreditation

  • Specialized or programmatic accreditation

When selecting a university, it is important to make sure that their accrediting agency is recognized by the USDE. If it is not, it may be in your best interest to choose a different school.

What Are the Different Accrediting Organizations?

Here are some of the most prominent accreditors within the United States:

DeVry University, for example, is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Our Keller Graduate School of Management is included in this accreditation. While each accrediting institution is different, they are all required to meet the education standards set forward by the USDE.

What Is the Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation?

In the past, a university’s accreditation was often referred to as “regional” or “national.” However, as of July 1, 2020, the USDE no longer categorizes accrediting organizations as "regional.” As explained by the CHEA, the change was designed to “eliminate reference to "regional" accreditation, now describing regional accrediting organizations as "national" and requiring these accreditors to make public all the states or countries in which they are engaged in accrediting activity.”

What Is Institutional Accreditation?

Institutional accreditation is awarded to the university as a whole and encompasses all of their programs and offerings. It is essential because it shows that the university displays an overall level of readiness and preparedness to educate its students.

What Is Specialized or Programmatic Accreditation?

Programmatic accreditation is a type of accreditation given to specialized or professional programs. This accreditation can be given to programs within existing institutions or to individual, single-purpose institutions. Each program may have an agency of its own that is responsible for evaluating the coursework. It’s not often that a school will receive a program accreditation without also having institutional accreditation.

Programmatic accreditation agencies look at the faculty, resources, coursework and administration to determine if the students have the tools that they need to succeed in their education. For a program to receive accreditation, it must meet all of the designated requirements and display a consistent curriculum and results.

Examples of programmatic accreditation and recognition include:

A complete list of programmatic accreditors can be found at

Is Accreditation Required by Law?

No. Accreditation is a voluntary process and is not a mandatory requirement. Any university can apply accreditation, whether they are for-profit, non-profit, private or public institutions; however, some institutions may choose not to.

That being said, accreditation is required by the federal government for a college, university or program to be eligible for federal grants and loans or other federal funds. Similarly, accreditation is required by state governments to make state funds available and when students are allowed to sit for state licensure examinations in some professional programs.

Why Should Students Care About Accreditation?

Students are in charge of their education and where they choose to receive it. When you graduate from an accredited university, you’re putting a stamp of excellence on your degree. That stamp proves that the school you attended is held to rigorous and demanding standards. When colleges undergo the challenging process of receiving accreditation, it can potentially lead to a higher level of education with more student resources, experienced faculty and a more advanced curriculum.

Of course, choosing an accredited university doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become a successful professional in your field. What it does guarantee is that you’ll receive training and education that meets or exceeds the standards set by academic experts.

Does Accreditation Matter to Future Employers?

Employers are always looking to remain efficient in the hiring and training of their employees. In some instances, the effort to optimize efficiency will lead to hiring restrictions, such as students who received training from accredited universities only. This type of employer believes that he or she will find more prepared candidates by selecting the ones with the best education from a respected university.

Upon graduation, you may find yourself competing against many other candidates for the same job. The employer will likely factor in your personality, coachability and how you’ll fit into the organization, but they’ll also look at where you received your education. They may find reassurance in knowing that you went to an accredited university, and one that shares similar, compatible values.

What Is the Difference Between Online and On-Campus Accreditation?

Students and employers understand that online colleges provide the same level of education as traditional schools, but what about accreditation? Do schools that offer online education have an easier standard to follow since they don’t have in-class students? The answer is no.

Online colleges undergo the same review and testing process to receive their accreditations as on-campus universities. This ensures that students receive a quality education regardless of when and where they choose to take classes.

What Are Some Accreditation Guidelines?

You might be wondering, with all of these college accreditation types, what are the guidelines that the universities need to meet to receive accreditation?

  1. First, the school requests to receive an evaluation for accreditation. Schools do this task voluntarily, and the agency that visits has standards that the school needs to meet if it wishes to receive accreditation. Before a school chooses an agency, administrators will educate themselves on their standards, so they can prepare to meet the requirements of the individual governing agency.

  2. Next, the agency will come in and look at the facilities overall. If it’s an institutional accrediting agency, they will look at everything, including the programs offered, the number of resources available for students, extracurricular activities, cocurricular activities, as well as advanced learning tools such as labs and tutors. If the agency is accrediting a specific program, they will focus more specifically on the resources and tools available within the degree or certificate program(s).

  3. Once they’ve checked everything above, the members of the accreditation agency will look to the educators at the university and review their previous experience, their education and their students’ results. During this process, they will ask questions and review evidence of quality student outcomes.

  4. After the review is complete, the agency will determine if the university meets its requirements, and it will either grant or deny the accreditation.

Accreditation is an important factor that students can use to rate the quality of a school. Remember that universities go through the challenging process of receiving accreditation for a reason, and it can potentially result in benefits to you both during and after your education.

At DeVry University and our Keller Graduate School of Management, we’re proud to be institutionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and also hold several programmatic accreditations. For a complete list of our accreditors, click here. To learn more about how our programs can help you reach your goals, contact us.

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