How to Find the Accreditation for an Online University

The first step for many students searching for online universities is to locate schools that are accredited by a reputable accreditation agency. Finding accreditation information is usually best left to the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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Prospective students can find out if a university is accredited and by what body, by utilizing online resources provided by the school, the accrediting agency or by an external body like the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Using Online Resources to Find Accreditation Information

There are several online resources that prospective students can use to find out if an online university is accredited. Perhaps the easiest is to check the school's website, since many online schools list their accreditation directly on their website. Another option is to check the website of the accreditation body, some of which list the online programs that they have accredited.

Another way to find accreditation information about a school is to use the databases provided by the USDE and CHEA. The USDE provides an online database that enables students to search for accreditation information by school or by accreditation agency. The CHEA offers a search for online accredited programs, which can be useful for finding a variety of universities or ensuring a specific school is accredited by a reputable agency.

Confirming Accreditation Credibility

When evaluating the credibility of an accrediting agency, it important to make sure that it is included in the database of the USDE or CHEA. Accreditation agencies should also be private non-profit, private institutions. Verifying this information is particularly important if the accrediting agency or school was identified by using a broad search with keywords such as online, distance education, accredited colleges or universities.

Accreditation Agencies

One accrediting body that is specific for accrediting online universities is the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. However, there are many other accrediting institutions that have been approved by the USDE. Within the database, the USDE divides accreditation bodies into several categories:

  • Institutional accrediting agencies, which accredit entire schools and are divided into:
    • National agencies
    • Regional agencies
    • Specialized agencies
  • Programmatic accrediting agencies, which verify the quality of specific programs in particular subject fields.

Here are some of specific accrediting bodies that fall within these categories:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • American Psychological Association, Committee on Accreditation
  • National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission
  • Teacher Education Accreditation Council, Accreditation Committee
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education
  • National Association of Schools of Theatre, Commission on Accreditation
  • American Academy for Liberal Education
  • Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges

Why Choose an Accredited University?

Accreditation is used to verify school or program quality, so prospective students can be sure that they are going to get a good education. Many online universities that are accredited receive federal funding, which assists students in the financial aid process. Finding an accredited online university is also important for students who plan to transfer or pursue an advanced degree once they finish the online degree or certificate program.

By using the school website, accreditation body website and/or USDE or CHEA databases, prospective online students can verify the quality of the web-based educational program in which they are planning to enroll. Some agencies accredit whole schools, while others focus on particular programs.

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