You've done your research on online accredited colleges, and this much is certain: it's important to choose an accredited school. A school's accreditation status can affect your ability to access financial aid, transfer credits and even find a job. Accreditation also helps ensure the overall quality of your education. Why? Accredited colleges undergo a comprehensive review process that examines every aspect of a school's operations, including curriculum, academic performance and faculty.
It's easy to understand why accreditation is important, but becoming an accredited school is anything but easy. Here's a high-level overview of the process to help you understand what accreditation means and why it's important.
Step 1: Candidacy. Before a school can even be considered for regional accreditation, it must qualify for candidacy through a detailed pre-application process. This process can take up to four years from start to finish before a school can even apply for initial accreditation. Requirements include submitting a letter of intent, performing a detailed self-study, undergoing onsite evaluations by the accreditor and completing biennial evaluations. If a school fails in any of these areas to meet the initial accreditation standards, it must go back to the starting point, wait one year and begin the process over again. Once the pre-application process is complete, schools can apply for initial accreditation.
Step 2: Initial Accreditation. Initial accreditation is the status a school reaches after it passes its candidacy and applies for accreditation. In order to qualify for initial accreditation, an institution is evaluated operationally, financially and academically. For example, schools may be required to meet certain standards in the following areas:
- Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct
- Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support
- Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement
- Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness
Step 3: Accreditation. Once a school achieves accredited status, it can't just sit back and rest on its laurels. Schools must be re-affirmed or re-accredited every few years to keep up with changes in technology, educational standards and industry best practices. It's also important to know that accreditation status is contingent upon continuing to meet the accreditor's standards. A school's accreditation status can be placed on probation, downgraded or even removed if a school fails to maintain standards.