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Institutional Accreditation

Jennifer King Logan

Written By: Jennifer King Logan

Published: 2/7/2023

Accreditation is arguably one of the most important factors to consider when you're choosing a college or university. It's an invaluable form of quality assurance, and accredited institutions are proven to offer quality programs, provide high-caliber resources and services, and operate in an ethically and financially responsible manner. All of the schools on our website are accredited online colleges, so you can trust in their value and authenticity.

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Colleges With Institutional Accreditation

School Name Accrediting Agency Annual Tuition
California State University-San Bernardino WSCUC, AACSB, ABET, ACEND, CCNE, CEPH, CSWE, NASAD, NASM, NAST, NCATE $18,765
Calvin University HLC, ABET, ASHA, CCNE, CSWE, NASM, NCATE $36,300
Campbellsville University SACS COC, CSWE, NASM, NCATE $25,400
Canisius College MSCHE, ABET, CACREP, NCATE $29,428
Capitol Technology University MSCHE, IACBE $26,308
Carlow University MSCHE, APA, CCNE, CSWE, IACBE $30,528
Carnegie Mellon University MSCHE, AACSB, ABET, NASAD, NASM $57,119
Carroll University HLC, AOTA, APTA, CCNE $32,850
Carson-Newman University SACS COC, ACEND, CCNE, NASAD, NASM, NCATE $28,900
Cedarville University HLC, ABET, ACBSP, ACPE, CCNE, CSWE, NASM, NCATE $31,322
Central Christian College of Kansas HLC $20,450
Central Methodist University HLC, AOTA, APTA, CCNE, MSBN, NASM $15,810
Central Michigan University HLC, AACSB, ACEND, APA, APTA, ASHA, CEA, CEPH, LCME, NASAD, NASM, NCATE, TEAC $24,120
Central Washington University NWCCU, ABET, ACEND, APA, CACREP, NASM, NCATE $23,954
Chamberlain College of Nursing CCNE $19,638
Chaminade University of Honolulu WSCUC, CCNE, MACTE $26,134
Champlain College NECHE, ABET, CSWE, JRCERT, NASAD $41,828
Charleston Southern University SACS COC, ABET, ACEN, ACEN, IACBE, NASM, NCATE $26,000

What Is Institutional Accreditation?

In the U.S., the federal government — specifically, the U.S. Department of Education — seeks to ensure consistency in higher education across the country. The objective is to make sure that, for example, a college student who has earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from a college in California has acquired the same knowledge and skills as a student who has earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from a college in Texas or Vermont. 

The USDE does not evaluate colleges itself. Instead, it authorizes independent agencies to assess colleges and determine whether these colleges meet established standards of excellence in terms of degrees, courses, faculty, resources, and other factors. Accreditation is optional, and evaluations are conducted at the request of a school as a means of demonstrating the overall caliber of its educational offerings.

Types of Accrediting Agencies

There are many accreditors authorized to review schools, and these agencies can be divided into categories. Agencies that have the authority to conduct evaluations of entire schools are known as institutional accrediting agencies. Prior to 2019, institutional agencies were further divided into two subcategories — regional accreditation and national accreditation — and these terms are still widely used today.

Initially, there were six regional accrediting agencies that were limited to reviewing institutions within their assigned regions. Today, these accreditors continue to review colleges in their original regions but are allowed to work with schools in any location. Regional accrediting bodies typically review the large, comprehensive universities that offer degrees in virtually all subjects available.

Typically, the remaining institutional accreditors that fall under the subcategory of national accrediting agencies have a narrower scope. Each agency tends to focus on smaller institutions that specialize in teaching fewer subjects. These agencies have always had the freedom to evaluate schools across the country, using consistent standards.

The other primary category is programmatic accreditation agencies. These accrediting bodies are limited in scope to reviewing individual programs or sometimes departments within an institution or university that has already received institutional accreditation. In general, their objective is to confirm that programs are educating students to meet relevant industry standards.

Institutional Accrediting Agencies

Institutional accreditation can be a complex issue, and you may want to learn more about the many accrediting organizations that have been sanctioned by the USDE or by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C., that advocates for quality higher education. A brief description of each institutional accreditation agency is provided below, and you can also consult the USDE website or the CHEA website.

Agencies That Review Comprehensive Universities

  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC): Founded in 1926, DEAC is the accrediting body for schools that educate students through various distance learning methods, including fully online colleges.
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC): Since 1895, the HLC has been the main accreditor for degree-granting, postsecondary educational institutions in the Midwest, but now reviews schools across the country, including those that offer online programs.
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE): Many schools along the East Coast, in states such as New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, have been accredited by the MSCHE.
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC): Once focused on schools in northeastern states like Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, as well as Washington, D.C., the NEASC is now an accrediting agency for colleges and universities in all U.S. states and territories.
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU): Initially founded in 1917 to monitor colleges in the Northwest, such as those located in Washington and Idaho, the NWCCU now serves as an institutional accrediting body for all states. 
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS): Empowered to review colleges and universities located anywhere in the U.S., SACS has traditionally focused on schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC): Like its counterparts, the WASC initially accredited schools in California, Arizona, and other western states, but now serves the entire U.S. and international schools. The WASC has two separate divisions — one for community and junior colleges that primarily grant associate degrees and one for four-year colleges and universities. 

Agencies That Review Faith-Based Schools

  • Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE): The ABHE is an accrediting organization that is authorized to evaluate Bible colleges and universities granting associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees, as well as diplomas and certificates.
  • Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools: This association grants accreditation to and oversees Rabbinical and Talmudic schools that grant associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, as well as First Rabbinic and First Talmudic degrees.
  • Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies (AIJS): The AIJS is the authorized accrediting agency for schools for Jewish studies. This includes associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and certificates in Jewish Studies or Classical Torah Studies. 
  • Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS): The ATS specializes in accrediting master's and doctoral programs in professional and academic theological education.
  • Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS): TRACS is a sanctioned accrediting agency for Christian colleges and universities that grant diplomas and certificates, as well as associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees.

Agencies That Review Healthcare Schools

Agencies That Review Other Specialty Schools

Because accreditation is so important, all of the online colleges on our lists of nonprofit online schools and most popular online colleges are accredited.

Why Is Accreditation Important to College Students?

If you're a prospective college student, you have likely spent some time comparing various programs and schools in your college search. Knowing the accreditation status of each institution you're interested in can help you select the best accredited online colleges for your chosen field of study. There are also several additional reasons why accreditation matters:

Transferring Credits

No institution is required to accept transfer credits from any other school, but accreditation can help. Most colleges will not consider accepting transfer credits if they were earned at a nonaccredited school. Students enrolling in courses and expecting to be able to transfer those credits farther down the road are advised to examine the accreditation of their current college as well as the guidelines of the schools to which they may wish to transfer.

Getting Financial Aid

Students interested in applying for and receiving federal financial aid, such as Perkins Loans and Pell Grants, should note that the U.S. Department of Education requires institutions to be accredited if they will be offering financial aid to students. This is also true for several state aid programs.

Finding a Job

In some cases, employers view graduates of accredited colleges as more prepared than those who've earned their degrees from unaccredited institutions. Accreditation offers employers some assurance that the school has maintained high academic standards and prepares its students with the appropriate level of skills and knowledge. Accreditation may also be required as part of certification or licensure procedures in some fields.

Continuing Education

Similar to how employers might view a graduate of an accredited school, graduate school admissions officers may also look more favorably on students who have completed accredited undergraduate degree programs. In many cases, graduation from an accredited institution is considered an eligibility prerequisite for application and enrollment in graduate-level programs.

What Should I Look For?

Prospective college students should look for authenticity in a school's accreditation status. To determine whether the school you're considering is accredited by an authorized accreditor, you can search either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases. These same databases also provide information about program accreditation. 

If the school you're interested in is not listed in either database, it may not be a legitimate college that meets federal standards. It may be a "diploma mill," which is a school that offers subpar education and grants meaningless degrees to any students willing to pay the fees. 

It is equally important to confirm that the agency that is accrediting a particular institution is legitimate and not an "accreditation mill" or possibly a fictitious agency. CHEA and other organizations monitor accrediting agencies to ensure they are providing adequate reviews of schools and degree programs. According to CHEA, some schools falsify their accreditation status by seeking accreditation from a fraudulent agency. It's also possible for a school to claim accreditation from an agency that doesn't actually exist.

Here are several questions that CHEA has created to help identify potential diploma mill schools:

  • Are there few requirements for graduation?
  • Does the school allow degrees to be purchased?
  • Does the school make claims for which it has no evidence?
  • Are there any, or few, accreditation standards for quality that are published by the accrediting agency or organization?

If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, the school's accreditation status may be fraudulent. A degree from a diploma mill may not be recognized by employers, state licensing agencies, or master's or doctorate programs.

How Schools and Programs Become Accredited

According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation is not only a status but a process as well. Obtaining institutional accreditation is neither easy nor quick, particularly for educational institutions seeking approval for the very first time. 

However, while the main purpose of accreditation is to demonstrate proof of legitimacy, some universities gain important benefits through accreditation. For example, accreditation can help colleges demonstrate the quality of their programs and services, which may help them attract the best students. 

The following describes the basic steps in the accreditation process for schools, whether on-campus or online. Individual programs within a college undergo the same process for programmatic accreditation but on a smaller scale focused mainly on curriculum, learning objectives, and faculty.


The first step is a written self-assessment from the school. The purpose of the self-study is to evaluate the institution's operations as they measure against the accrediting body's accreditation standards. The self-study may also include a detailed review of the school's objectives and goals, as well as any challenges that the institution has faced.

Peer Review

A committee formed from other schools is guided by the accrediting agency and evaluates the resources, course materials, and curriculum of the school seeking accreditation. The committee then compares the institution's operations against the education standards of the accrediting organization for learning resources, support services, faculty, educational programs, effectiveness, administration, and institutional mission.

Site Visits

This step usually takes the form of a series of meetings in which representatives of the accrediting agency sit down with students, administrators, and faculty to gain a more in-depth view of the institution and how people feel about the school.


Following the initial evaluation, the accrediting agency decides whether the school has successfully met its standards. In addition, the agency may recommend that the school undergoes constant monitoring to ensure that the standards continue to be met.

Periodic Review

Once a school is granted accreditation, the agency conducts reviews on a regular basis to ensure that the school is continuing to perform as expected. These reviews can also allow the agency to identify any areas in which the institution may need to improve. How often a college is reviewed varies according to the level of the degree program and the type of institution itself. Time frames range from every two years to every 10 years.

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