In the US, accreditation is a big topic in higher education (i.e., college). To learn some of the reasons why it’s important, check out this article on what it means if your college is accredited — and what it means if your college isn’t.

This article is part of a series about approved accrediting agencies. Unfortunately, there are also fake accrediting agencies. This series includes three articles.

  1. What is regional accreditation?
  2. What is national accreditation?
  3. What is specialized accreditation?

Like regional accrediting agencies, national accrediting agencies accredit the entire college or university. This means they evaluate all the college’s academic programs, as well as its processes and overall quality.

Typically a national accrediting agency focuses on a specific type of college. Also, they may accredit institutions that grant only certificates (not degrees). Some examples show this.

  • The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges mostly accredits institutions that “educate students for occupational, trade and technical careers” according to its profile with the US Department of Education. It accredits both degree and non-degree institutions.
  • The Association for Biblical Higher Education’s Commission on Accreditation accredits “undergraduate… institutions of biblical higher education.”
  • The Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits institutions that primarily use distance or correspondence education, whether they are degree or non-degree institutions.

While they accredit the entire institution, this focus on specific institutional types can enable national accrediting agencies to focus on unique factors. For example, the Association for Biblical Higher Education’s Commission on Accreditation includes in its accreditation standards items not included by other agencies, such as the following.

  1. Requirements for Bible or theology courses
  2. Attention to ministry formation programs
  3. Consideration of students’ spiritual development

It is controversial to talk about whether or not one type of accrediting agency is better than another. National accrediting agencies do not want to be seen as lower in quality than regional agencies. Also, colleges that are accredited by national agencies (and not by regional agencies) do not want to be seen as lesser institutions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which is an advocacy organization, stated in a report in 2000 that “Institutions and accreditors need to assure that transfer decisions are not made solely on the source of accreditation of a sending program or institution.”

Still, it is common for national accreditation to be seen as “less good” than regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is often called the “gold standard,” and articles such as this one from Get Educated talk about the benefits of attending a regionally accredited college. As that article notes, some students who attend nationally accredited colleges have trouble transferring their credits to regionally accredited colleges.

As a rule of thumb, most regionally accredited colleges and universities accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited colleges, but many of them do not accept credits from nationally accredited colleges. Similarly, regionally accredited graduate schools may not admit students with undergraduate degrees from nationally accredited colleges.