When considering whether to enroll in an online degree program, it is important to verify that the school or program has been accredited by a government-recognized agency to ensure its quality.
Finding Accredited Online Programs
Choosing an accredited online school is important - that means its programs meet rigorous standards set forth by a recognized accrediting agency. Completing accredited programs is often required for certification or licensure in fields such as teaching or engineering. Although some schools say their online programs are accredited, it is best to check out the accrediting organization, since some organizations are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education offer tools for consumers to check the accreditation status of schools.
National Center for Education Statistics
The National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) College Navigator provides data on accredited colleges and their degree programs, with a search function that allows researchers to narrow results to only include colleges that offer distance-learning programs. NCES College Navigator also offers information on the type of college, enrollment and basic costs, but it does not provide information on what types of online programs are offered at each school.
U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education offers an accreditation search through its Office of Postsecondary Education. On this website, students can search by school or accrediting organization to find out whether or not a school or program is recognized by the Department of Education.
The database includes several different types of accrediting agencies, including:
- Institutional accrediting agencies, divided into:
- National accrediting agencies
- Regional accrediting agencies
- Specialized agencies
- Specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies
One of the accrediting agencies included within the database is the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which can be especially helpful for prospective online students.
School and Agency Websites
Often, accreditation information is available on school or accrediting agency websites. Some accrediting agencies specifically provide information about online programs that they have accredited. After finding accreditation status on a school's website, students should make sure that the accrediting agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
What Types of Accredited Online Degree Programs are Available?
There are a multitude of online accredited degree programs that are available to students. Programs that do not require hands-on learning, such as liberal arts degrees, are often offered online by accredited institutions. Programs that have clinical components, such as nursing degree programs, may be offered as hybrid degrees, which means students can complete part of the degree online and part on campus. There are also programs that require students to be on campus for a short period of time during their degree program, which is called a 'period of residency.'
Schools That Offer These Programs
Many colleges and universities offer online degree programs, and many schools state that their online programs are identical in content to their on-campus programs. Some large public universities have divisions or schools devoted to online programs. Schools that offer these programs include:
- Public universities
- Private not-for-profit institutions
- Private for-profit schools
There are a variety of online resources that prospective students can use to find accredited online college degree programs, which can provide education in a wide range of subjects.