In 2020, the US Department of Education abolished the difference between National and Regional accreditation, theoretically rendering this article moot. However, many schools, state licensing boards, and professional organizations have continued to make this distinction and are expected to continue to do so indefinitely. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), for example, still categorizes accreditors this way, and many schools and boards now point to CHEA for this guidance in lieu of the Department of Education. While RA may no longer technically exist as a concept at a federal level, the reality is that credits from schools that have been accredited by a historically-RA accreditor are still going to have more transferability than credits from schools that have historically-NA accreditation.
There are several types of accreditation. For 99% of our purposes (meaning undergraduate, non-specialized requirements) we will only need to consider two: Regional Accreditation and National Accreditation. These are frequently abbreviated as RA (for Regional Accreditation) and NA (for National Accreditation).
Majority of the time it is generally advised to attend a regionally-accredited school so that one will not have to worry about any possible issues with graduate programs or certain employers like state governments. It is generally advised to attend a regionally-accredited school so that one will not have to worry about any issues with any organization accepting your credentials in case your situation changes in the future. Something to keep in mind is that as demand for the Master's degree continues to increase, you may decide to pursue a Master's degree, and having a RA will realistically be important for that. It may not be a concern now, but down the road, if looking for a promotion, or for career advancement purposes, it may prove to be invaluable.
In some cases, a degree from a nationally accredited school could possibly work for someone who knows he or she will always be in the private sector or federal government, never wants to go to graduate school, is fine with the very limited number of graduate schools that will accept one's degree, does not plan to transfer or is satisfied with the limited transfer options available to NA students, and will never need a license that requires a degree earned from a regionally-accredited school.
Regional Accreditation (acronym: RA)
Regional accreditation is considered the gold standard of institutional accreditation because it is the most widely accepted when it comes to transferring, going to graduate school, employment, and obtaining an occupational license.
Regional accreditation is a type of institutional accreditation and regional accrediting organizations accredit schools in specific regions. Generally, if a school accepts transfer credits, they will accept credits from a regionally-accredited school depending on how the transfer credits fit the new school's degree requirements and if they are a close match to what the school offers. Sometimes, RA schools may accept credits from NA programs so long as they are ACE or NCCRS recommended. This is typically the case at the Big 3.
If you're attempting to determine whether your school has (or had) the "right" kind of accreditation, check it against the following list:
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
National Accreditation (acronym: NA)
National accrediting organizations accredit schools nationwide and are a type of institutional accreditation. They vary in the types of schools they accredit. For example, ACCSC and ACICS accredit schools that primarily offer vocational/technical programs. DEAC (formerly DETC) accredits schools that primarily offer distance learning programs. TRACS and ABHE accredit religious schools.
Credits earned from NA schools are typically more difficult to transfer than credits earned from RA schools. Most graduate schools will not accept undergraduate degrees earned at NA schools. Also, many public employers and licensing agencies may not recognize degrees earned at NA schools.
Note: If you have credits from a nationally accredited school, then there are some regionally-accredited schools that may accept your credits. Liberty University, Western Governors University, and the American Public University System are just a few RA schools that treat NA and RA credits/degrees the same. Excelsior College may consider accepting NA credits. Thomas Edison State University accepts credits earned at NA schools so long as they are recommended for credit by ACE or NCCRS. Charter Oak State College no longer accepts NA credit, even if the credits are recommended by ACE or NCCRS.
A Note from Wikipedia on RA vs NA
- Regionally accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions. Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career or technical programs. Within the American higher education system, critics note that national accrediting bodies (though not necessarily all nationally-accredited schools) have much lower standards than regional bodies, and consider them disreputable for this reason.
- Some regionally accredited colleges have general policies against accepting any credits from nationally accredited schools, others are reluctant to because regional schools feel that national schools' academic standards are lower than their own or they are unfamiliar with the particular school. It is important to note that both types of accreditation are legitimate and recognized by the Department of Education. However, there have been lawsuits regarding nationally accredited schools who led prospective students to believe that they would have no problem transferring their credits to regionally accredited schools.
- From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_accreditation_in_the_United_States
Types of Accreditation
- Institutional Accreditation: Accredits an institution as a whole, not a specific degree program. Both Regional and National Accreditation are forms of Institutional Accreditation.
- Programmatic Accreditation: Accredits a specific degree program at a particular school, but not the entire institution. Examples include: ABET (accredits computer science and engineering degree programs), AACSB and ACBSP (rival business program accreditation bodies), CAEP (consolidation of NCATE and TEAC and accredits teaching programs), etc. Sometimes, programmatic accreditation is needed for licensure i.e. CCNE or ACEN for nursing licensure. Sometimes, programmatic accreditation just simply means that a program has met more rigorous standards than what's required by institutional accreditation. If you want to become a business professor at an AACSB-accredited school, then you may need a doctorate earned from a school that is accredited by AACSB, EQUIS, or AMBA.
- Understanding the types of accreditation and agencies at BrainTrack
- A Degree Forum thread discussing the pros and cons of RA vs NA
- Wikipedia article on Higher education accreditation in the United States