Regionally Accredited vs. Nationally Accredited: What's the Difference

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

If you're researching colleges and universities, then you may have seen or heard the terms "regionally accredited" and "nationally accredited" and wondered, “What's the difference?” While both types of accreditation can help ensure that you receive a quality education, understanding the differences is important. You will want to be aware of the differences when selecting the school that best fits your desires and goals.

What is Regional Accreditation?

The main difference between regional and national accreditation organizations is the types of colleges and universities they accredit. Regional accreditors are responsible for evaluating and granting accreditation status for all colleges and universities in a particular geographical area. The majority of regionally accredited colleges are degree-granting, non-profit institutions; however, some non-degree and for-profit institutions are included as well.1

Regional accreditation agencies in the US include:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (formerly the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

What is National Accreditation?

National accreditors may be faith-related or career-related, and may award accreditation status based on a particular area of focus or field of study. Most faith-related nationally accredited schools are religiously affiliated, non-profit, degree-granting institutions. The majority of career-related nationally accredited institutions are career-specific trade or vocational schools and for-profit colleges with industry-focused programs (including distance-learning institutions).1

Various national accrediting agencies include:

  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Council on Occupational Education (COE)

If you are unsure whether a college or university is regionally or nationally accredited, you can look up their current accreditation status on the U.S. Department of Education's online database (USDE).

How Are Regional and National Accreditation Different?

Transfer Credit Acceptance

Decisions about accepting transfer credits, whether they are from regionally accredited or nationally accredited institutions, are at the discretion of the accepting institution. If you plan to transfer, check with your transfer school's admissions department and course catalog for more information on their policy.

Recognition of Degrees

Some professions, such as teaching or accounting, require state licensure. Before you choose a degree program, make sure that any applicable licensure boards recognize your credentials and the type of accreditation – regional or national – your school carries.

Regional vs. National Accreditation: The Similarities

Both Are Institutional Accreditations

With institutional accreditation, the entire college or university, including its faculty, departments, degree programs and curricula, are reviewed and approved by a regional or national accreditation agency. American InterContinental University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org), a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This differs from specialized or programmatic accreditation, which pertains to a single program or department within a college or university.2

Both Evaluate Quality Standards

Both national and regional accreditors require colleges and universities to periodically undergo rigorous review processes to gain and maintain their accreditations.

Both Can be Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education

It's important to understand that the USDE does not accredit schools itself, but it does recognize both national and regional accreditation agencies. The USDE uses accreditation to help ensure that that federal student aid funding is used for quality courses and programs. In order for an accrediting agency to become "recognized," it must undergo a review process – a process that is governed by federal laws and regulations – to determine if the accreditor meets the department's standards. Once an accreditor is recognized, it is continually monitored by the department and must renew its recognition status at least every five years.

Both Allow Schools to Participate in Federal Financial Aid Programs

In order to be eligible to participate in federal student financial aid programs, your school must be accredited by an agency recognized by the USDE. If you choose a non-accredited school, you may not be able to participate in federal (or even state) financial aid programs. This includes government-funded student loans, grants or scholarships, and U.S military financial aid programs. (You can find a full list of accrediting agencies and any corresponding Title IV restrictions here.)

Are you ready to take the next step? Explore online degree programs at AIU today.

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment or salary. For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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1. “Accreditation and Recognition in the United States.” Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Retrieved from: http://www.chea.org/userfiles/uploads/AccredRecogUS.pdf (Visited 11-5-18).
2. “Accreditation in the United States." U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg2.html (Visited 11-5-18).

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