Accreditation of both online and traditional college degree programs has become crucial for most institutions careful with their reputations. But given the fact that not all quality institutions are accredited and many types of courses lie outside accreditation, is it ever wise to pursue an unaccredited course of study?
Accreditation indicates a level of quality and consistency relevant to the goals of higher education. Accrediting bodies apply a list of criteria to educational institutions that measures quality of the college or university in combination with the educational curriculum. This standard has become increasingly enviable among even specialized colleges.
Students that knowingly pursue an unaccredited degree program are urged to do thorough research into the credibility of the program. Diploma mills have overpopulated the realm of unaccredited, calling into question the reputations of all non-accredited institutions. Unfortunately the lack of accreditation brands an entity as one without quality control. In some states the laws have been changed to make it harder for non-accredited institutions to do business. States such as Oregon, North Dakota, and New Jersey require an individual with an unaccredited degree to disclose that fact when applying for jobs or seeking promotions and educational reimbursement.
Financially, students that use the services of unaccredited colleges waive any federal or state financial aid, and in some cases are also exempt from receiving certain scholarships and grants.
The Department of Education approves the legitimacy of national and regional accrediting agencies. These entities review and evaluate both online and traditional colleges and universities for quality control purposes. But there are dozens of agencies responsible for accreditation of special technical and vocational schools, as well.
Massage therapy, cosmetology, dance arts, and even acupuncture have recognized accrediting agencies. However, accreditation is voluntary and in some alternative professional sectors such as these, only a fraction of those programs available actually pursue accreditation. Within the realm of many purely trade-centric programs, accreditation is not necessarily a meaningful measurement. Much of the relevance of diplomas and certifications in fields such as massage therapy and cosmetology lie in a particular school’s professional statistics and industry reputation.
For most technical students, computer certifications provide a crucial professional benchmark. Top-notch companies, such as Cisco Systems and Microsoft, sanction well-qualified and well-equipped training entities to host their courses and certification programs. These fall well outside the realm of collegiate accreditation, but make sense to a large population of technical professionals. In this case, companies such as these actively manage the quality of the curriculum, which could arguably be deemed equivalent to the job of an accrediting agency.
Culinary schools make a name for themselves not for accreditation, but for the industry names associated. Great chefs that have inspired highly specialized cooking programs and those retained as lead instructors serve the same role as any accrediting body in traditional education—they determine quality and consistency.
Students weighing the benefits of accreditation are definitely urged to stick to accredited where degrees are concerned. However, when it comes to professional certifications and certain trade school diplomas, accreditation is spotty, remains outside most industry requirements, and may very well make sense in certain professional circles.