Accreditation is a process in which colleges and universities participate in a series of examinations to prove that they offer a high-quality education. Though it is voluntary, unlike the licensing that schools undergo to operate legally within a state, accreditation proves that an institution is held to strict standards and sets those colleges and universities aside from schools that have more questionable ethics.
There are many Christian colleges and universities students can choose from, but the quality of education varies. It can be difficult to determine whether your school offers the best possible education by just looking at their mission statement and program offerings. Researching to find out whether a college is accredited should be part of the school selection process, as accredited schools are held in higher esteem than unaccredited schools by employers and graduate schools. You're more likely to get a job or land that spot in grad school if you've got a degree from an accredited school.
In addition, accreditation distinguishes good schools with high standards from degree mills, which are colleges and universities that confer degrees for money rather than academic achievement. Degree mills are not at all respected by employers, and earning an unaccredited degree from a degree mill can make it difficult for graduates to find jobs or establish careers. If you attend an accredited institution, your money will be spent wisely, rather than wasted on an expensive, unaccredited degree that can affect your job outlook.
Though there are many different accreditation agencies out there, not all of them come with the same level of respect. Typically, the most reputable agencies are those that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The most widely conferred accreditation is institutional accreditation, which accredits the entire college or university. Among the possible accrediting agencies are regional accreditation organizations. They include the following:
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Some Christian colleges may have regional accreditation, while others opt to obtain accreditation from an agency that works with faith-based schools instead. CHEA recognizes the following organizations that accredit Christian colleges:
- Association for Biblical Higher Education
- The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools
As long as you attend a school that is accredited by at least one of the agencies listed above, you can feel comfortable in knowing that your tuition money will be spent on a high-quality education.
The other type of accreditation is specialized accreditation, which is conferred upon a school's individual programs. CHEA provides a list of specialized accrediting organizations on its website, which includes the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Specialized accreditation indicates that a school's program meets specific guidelines and teaches the unique skills required by specific subject areas.
To become accredited, schools undergo thorough evaluations. Different accrediting agencies have different standards in place, so exact evaluation procedures will vary. However, most accrediting institutions require colleges and universities to have been in operation for a certain number of years, as the institution's history will give the agency an idea of the educational standards that have remained in place over time. Once a school is ready to apply for accreditation, its officials will participate in a self-evaluation, during which they will judge their programs and curriculums. When that is complete, the accreditation organization will pay a series of visits to the school in question. This will give the agency a firsthand experience of how classes are conducted, retention rates are maintained, and graduation rates are fostered.
After they have gathered all the data, agency representatives will decide whether the school should be accredited. If they decide in favor of the college or university, the school will need to repeat the process every few years to prove that it is continuing to uphold the high-quality education required by the agency.
Specialized accreditation, like AASCB or APA accreditation, works in a similar manner, though the standards are a little stricter and the specialized agencies concern themselves with individual programs, rather than the overall school. This gives them the opportunity to sample curricula on a micro-level, which in turn allows them to determine whether or not the programs in question as operating as they should. Specialized accreditation agencies want to see that students are getting the most out of their education and that their classes are giving them the most up-to-date information on theories and practices within specific fields. The best Christian colleges will therefore have specialized accreditations for some of their individual programs.
Most Christian colleges and universities have an accreditation statement on their websites. In some cases, however, this information may be outdated or incorrect. The best way to determine whether a school is accredited is to use a resource you know you can trust.
There are two great places to check a school's accreditation status. One is the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator, which is a database of higher education institutions that includes information on both institutional and program-specific accreditation. It also provides the length of time that a school has held an accreditation, as well as whether there have been any lapses in accreditation over time.
The other resource is the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, which also provides up-to-date information on college accreditation. The database also lists the dates each credential was acquired and offers information on specialized accreditation.
When choosing a Christian college, it is a good idea to use these resources to pick a school that is accredited. That way, you know that you'll be putting both your time and money into a program that will benefit you even after you graduate.