If you’re unfamiliar with accreditation, you may want to check out our article about what accreditation is and how it works.

Despite accreditation’s benefits, some educational organizations do not have accreditation. This article looks at two topics related to unaccredited colleges.

  1. Possible reasons a college is unaccredited
  2. How a college’s unaccredited status affects students

Why would a college be unaccredited?

Sometimes really strong statements are made about unaccredited colleges. A group that advocates for veterans, Victory Media, operates G.I. Jobs to help US military veterans succeed in employment; their site says,

“Don’t waste your time and money. If that degree isn’t from an accredited school, potential employers won’t care that you have it.”

You can find other statements like that in lots of places. If this is how many people think about being unaccredited, why would a college choose not to have accreditation?

There may be many different reasons, but there are two common ones.

  1. Avoid regulation. Being accredited means having to follow rules, standards, common practices. Some colleges don’t want to let outside organizations restrict what they can do.
    1. Some of these rules/standards are directly from accrediting agencies, and some are from the US government — for example, the US government requires all accredited colleges to make public the list of their faculty members and their credit-transfer policy.
    2. Some colleges, especially if they are focused only on teaching about a specific religion, don’t want to have to follow all the regulations. Usually they don’t actually object to the rules, but they see committing to follow the rules as a loss of independence. They may not want to have requirements determined by others, preferring to have only the rules they or their religion/denomination choose.
    3. Also, some of these colleges do not expect their students to transfer to other schools, so they aren’t worried about credit transfer, a common problem for unaccredited credits.
    4. If these colleges only train people for specific jobs where employers won’t require an accredited degree, they may not see a benefit in earning accreditation.
  2. It’s not a real college. Some real colleges choose not to be accredited, as described above. But avoiding accreditation can also be your first clue that a college is a scam.
    1. One part of the official definition of a “diploma mill” is that the organization does not have accreditation. (See our What is a degree mill article to learn about “degree mills” or “diploma mills”.) Again, this does not mean an unaccredited college is actually a degree mill — it’s just that all degree mills are unaccredited.
    2. An organization can still be a helpful, useful educational organization and not be a real college. But it won’t be able to achieve accreditation if it’s not meeting normal standards for colleges.

How does a college’s unaccredited status affect its students?

When a college chooses not to be accredited, it gains some freedom and independence from outside oversight or “rules.” This means it can create nontraditional options for students that might not be acceptable in accredited colleges, so students may find opportunities they like at unaccredited colleges.

There are also some drawbacks to unaccredited colleges.

  1. It’s harder to transfer credits to an accredited college.
  2. It’s harder to get into graduate or professional school.
  3. Employers may not want to hire you with a degree from an unaccredited college.
  4. Students at unaccredited colleges generally cannot get federal or state financial aid. They may also not be able to use scholarships or tuition help from employers, community organizations, etc.
  5. The education provided may lack quality. A key purpose of accreditation is to assure quality, and unaccredited colleges don’t have that assurance.

Some students spend money and time to earn a degree from an unaccredited college, then find that they cannot go to graduate school, transfer to another college or get the jobs they want. Be informed before you make that choice, so that you don’t eliminate options for your future!

Aaron Profitt

Aaron D. Profitt is a husband and father of three sons. He’s a college administrator and professor whose teaching is in literature, leadership and statistics.

Aaron earned his BA in English and Political Science, his MA (English) and his PhD (Educational Studies) from accredited state universities.

He’s a foodie who enjoys Cincinnati’s varied restaurant culture.

In addition to Aaron’s work at a regionally accredited college, he serves as an accreditation evaluator for the Association for Biblical Higher Education, an approved accrediting agency. He has presented or co-presented workshops on online education, Title IX, assessment and other educational topics.

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