Accreditation: National vs Regional Comparison

There are two primary types of accreditation: national accreditation and regional accreditation. National accreditation may sound more prestigious, but in reality this is not the case. In fact, the difference between a regionally accredited and nationally accredited school has less to do with the quality of the education and more to do with the recognition and type of education you receive.

Here is a brief side-by-side comparison of the two types of accreditation:

Regional Accreditation National Accreditation
More liberal arts courses required, leading to a more well-rounded education Fewer liberal arts courses required for a more specialized education
Generally viewed as more prestigious and reputable in both academia and corporate America Not regarded as highly by the academic and corporate worlds
Transfer credits widely accepted by other institutions and professional licensing bodies Transfer credits not typically accepted by other institutions and professional lincensing bodies
Higher admissions standards; more selective acceptance Less competitive; easier to get in
Typically more expensive Typically cheaper
Prime candidates for corporate tuition reimbursement programs Often excluded from corporate tuition reimbursement programs
Offers almost exclusively professor-led courses More likely to have self-study courses

Regionally accredited schools are typically traditional colleges and universities with one or more physical campuses, while nationally accredited schools are generally vocational, trade, or religious institutions of higher learning.

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation traces its roots to 1885 and its importance has grown exponentially, now leading the development of higher education in the U.S. and protecting the integrity of the learning process and outcomes, and the interest of students in a diversity-driven higher education environment (cihe.neasc.org).

There are six regional accreditation bodies in the United States: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACS) (Bray, 2013).

The University of Louisville is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate, bachelor, master, specialist, doctoral, and first-professional degrees (D.M.D., J.D., M.D.). See online programs available at UofL.

You can see in the image below which accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA.org) accredits which region and its specific states.(elearners.com)regional accrediting bodies map

 

 

 

 

 

 

While each of the six regional accreditation bodies has its own set of rules and standards for granting accreditation, the requirements are largely similar if not identical. The standards imposed by regional accreditation bodies often revolve around the central rule of having a mission and purpose that is appropriate for higher learning. All other guidelines, such as having a planning and evaluation process for improvement, obtaining and retaining skilled faculty, having physical resources like a library and technological equipment, and having sufficient financial resources, are in place to ensure that the institution will be able to provide its students with a quality education (NEASC, 2011) (SACSCOC, 2012).

Because of the high standards set by regional accreditation bodies, the academic world and the corporate world largely consider regionally accredited schools to be the premiere institutions of higher learning. This means that a regionally accredited school is generally more prestigious and reputable and more competitive with higher admission standards than a nationally accredited school (Phillips).

One of the most important differences between regionally and nationally accredited schools is the ability to transfer credits from different schools. Because all regionally accredited schools are held to very similar standards, they know that students who have attended a different school which is regionally accredited have received a quality education. This is why regionally accredited schools will generally accept credits transferred from another regionally accredited school and put it towards the transferring student’s degree. (Phillips).

Most regionally accredited colleges’ curricula call for more liberal arts courses to fulfill graduation requirements, thus providing a wide range of knowledge and better preparation for various career paths and life-long learning. Whether delivered on campus or online, nearly all courses at a regionally accredited institution are led by instructors, adjuncts or tenured professors. Very few self-study courses are offered (Phillips).

National Accreditation

Nationally accredited institutions generally focus on providing specific instruction for a specialized career and place more emphasis on practical courses rather than a well-rounded curriculum (Phillips). Although nationally accredited schools are often cheaper than regionally accredited schools, they are sometimes excluded from corporate tuition reimbursement programs, unlike regionally accredited schools (Phillips).

Another issue to consider is whether a degree from a nationally accredited institution will be accepted by professional licensing bodies or other higher learning institutions. Many careers require licensing after earning a degree. Students who graduate from nationally accredited schools are often not accepted to take licensing exams (Howell). As mentioned, courses from nationally accredited schools are typically not accepted for transfer credit to other institutions; additionally, in many cases a regionally accredited school will not recognize a degree from a nationally accredited school, preventing students from pursuing a second degree from a regionally accredited school (Phillips).

As evidenced, the effects of accreditation reach far beyond the classroom and can affect a student’s personal and professional life. Choosing the wrong education can cost money and time, both of which are precious commodities for college students. The differences in the level of education obtained from schools with regional vs national accreditation should be more than enough to motivate prospective students to thoroughly research their school selections and weigh their educational options prior to enrollment.

Students or graduates of professional degrees (e.g., engineering, law) earned from nationally or non-regionally accredited institutions may encounter the issue of courses/credits not being accepted for professional licensure — most often, professional licensing bodies will not accept nationally accredited degrees.

If a student has questions on the accreditation of a particular school, they should speak with an enrollment advisor to ensure the school of their choice carries proper accreditation to be a good match for their future personal and career goals.

The University of Louisville is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate, bachelor, master, specialist, doctoral, and first-professional degrees (D.M.D., J.D., M.D.). See online programs available at UofL.

To learn more about what it means for an institution or program to be non-accredited, see our article “Does it Matter if my School is Accredited?

References

Bray, K. (2013). College Accreditation – Regional vs National Accreditation. Elearners. Retrieved from http://www.elearners.com/online-education-resources/degrees-and-programs/regional-accreditation-vs-national-accreditation/

New England Association of Schools and Colleges. U.S. Regional Accreditation: An Overview. Retrieved from https://cihe.neasc.org/about-accreditation/us-regional-accreditation-overview

Howell, T. Why You Should Care About Accreditation. Military Education. Retrieved from http://www.military.com/education/finding-a-school/understanding-accreditation.html

New England Association of Schools and Colleges, NEASC. (2011). Standards for Accreditation. Retrieved from https://cihe.neasc.org/sites/cihe.neasc.org/files/downloads/Standards/Standards_for_Accreditation.pdf 

Phillips, V. (n.d.). Regionally Accredited Online Colleges vs. Nationally Accredited. Get Educated. Retrieved from http://www.geteducated.com/regional-vs-national-accreditation-which-is-better-for-online-colleges

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, SACSCOC. (2012). The Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement. Retrieved from http://www.sacscoc.org/pdf/2012PrinciplesOfAcreditation.pdf

[Untitled image of regional accreditation bodies territories] Retrieved August 1, 2014 from: http://www.elearners.com/online-education-resources/degrees-and-programs/regional-accreditation-vs-national-accreditation/