Regional Vs National Accreditation for College

Institutional accreditation is a process in which colleges and universities are evaluated by an outside agency to ensure that the education they provide to students in all degree programs meets well-established standards of excellence.

Accreditation is a voluntary evaluation addressing the academic quality of the entire school. The review process uses the accrediting agency’s standards and is carried out by peers from other accredited schools.

The two types of accreditation are national accreditation and regional accreditation.

The main difference between national accreditation and regional accreditation is the type of school that pursues each type:

  • National accreditation is sought by vocational and trade schools offering degrees and certifications.
  • Regional accreditation is pursued by non-profit colleges and universities whether they are private or part of a state-owned educational system. It is considered the more prestigious accreditation.

There are other significant differences. Regional accreditation is accepted by all accredited schools. National accreditation is accepted only at other nationally accredited institutions. Schools with regional accreditation are more expensive, though non-profit, and have higher admission standards than nationally accredited schools, most of which are for-profit schools.

There are more than 3010 national accreditation agencies and six regional accreditation agencies. Schools seek either regional or national accreditation, but not both.  

In addition to school accreditation, many colleges and universities seek accreditation for specific programs, a process called programmatic accreditation, specialized accreditation and professional accreditation, depending on the school. In this process, “programmatic accrediting agencies examine individual academic units, programs or disciplinary offerings to ensure they are providing students with a quality education in a particular area of study.”

Programs and schools within a university that seek programmatic accreditation include schools of business, engineering, education, technology, architecture and health science schools like nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy.

What Is Regional Accreditation For College

Regional accreditation, the highest level of institutional accreditation in the United States, ensures colleges and universities meet standards of quality.

The goal of regional accreditation is colleges and universities meeting minimum standards in areas such as curriculum, faculty credentials, learning resources, student support services, graduation rates, and financial stability.

Regionally accredited colleges, mostly academically oriented, non-profit, or state-owned institutions, account for over 85 percent of all colleges in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A vast majority of online schools have regional accreditation.

Each regional accreditor conducts regular reviews, usually every 10 years, to confirm that standards are being met. Accreditation is voluntary but necessary for colleges to establish eligibility for federal financial aid.

Note that in 2019, the Department of Education modified its accreditation regulations, allowing institutions to obtain accreditation from regional accreditors located outside of their geographic area.

In the U.S., 6 primary regional accrediting organizations, overseen by the Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), exist:

AgencyRegion Served
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico
New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
Higher Learning Commission (HLC)Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University CommissionCalifornia, Hawaii, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands

In addition to the 6 regional accreditors, there is also a community college accreditor called the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which literally is a part of WASC.

What Is National Accreditation For College

National accreditation is a type of institutional accreditation, which is more focused on providing accreditation for trade schools, vocational colleges, and Bible schools, as well as career programs for a variety of degrees and certifications. For-profit institutions may also hold national accreditation.

These agencies accredit the entire institution, but they often focus on specific programs or disciplines within the institution. 

This kind of accreditation accounts for less than 6% of all schools

National accreditation is less standardized than regional accreditation and is not as widely recognized. Credits earned at a nationally accredited institution may not transfer to a regionally accredited institution.

Here are current national accreditors along with the numbers of accredited schools for each, based on the College Navigator of NCES:

National Accreditors NamesNumbers of accredited schools
National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc.968
Council on Occupational Education728
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges474
Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools249
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools229
Association for Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation121
Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools108
Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission108
North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Board of Trustees103
Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, Accreditation Commission95
Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training93
National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Commission on Accreditation42
Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools38
Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine37
New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Technical and Career Institutions36
Distance Education Accrediting Commission34
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation32
Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies30
Oklahoma Board of Career and Technology Education28
American Bar Association, Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar16
New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education16
National Association of Schools of Music, Commission on Accreditation12
In this table, we removed the other 16 national accreditors that have very few accredited schools.

Differences Between Regional And National Accreditation For College Students

There are 7 types main differences between regional and national accreditations from perspective of college students

School Types Difference

Regional accredited schools are generally non-profit, state-owned, or academically-focused  4-year institutions, which offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. 

In contrast, national accreditation is often associated with trade and technical schools, Bible colleges, and those institutions providing career-specific training. National accreditation is also common among for-profit colleges and universities.

Admission Standards Difference

Regionally accredited colleges typically have stricter admission standards, frequently requiring a higher GPA and test scores (like SAT and ACT). A regional college generally requires or considers a minimum GPA of 3.0 and SAT scores above 1200. 

Nationally accredited institutions are more flexible, possibly accepting students with a 2.0 GPA and lower standardized test results. Some national accredited schools even have an open admission policy.

  • Tuition is generally higher at regionally accredited institutions due to their reputation. Nationally accredited career and technical schools often have lower tuition costs.
  • Students at regionally accredited schools usually have better access to federal financial aid, loans, grants, and scholarships. Some aid is limited to students at regionally accredited institutions.

Tuition Difference

Colleges with regional accreditation often have higher tuition fees due to their reputation and perceived quality of education, while national accreditation is more commonly associated with lower tuition costs. 

For example, a student might pay $42,000 per year at a regionally accredited liberal arts college versus $15,000 at a nationally accredited technical institute.

Financial Aid and Scholarships Difference

Regional accreditation is typically held to stricter educational standards as compared to national accreditation. Financial aid and scholarships often are more accessible to students attending regionally accredited institutions. 

Federal financial aid including loans, grants, and work-study programs, generally require students to be enrolled in a college or university that holds regional accreditation. National accreditation may limit access to some types of federal financial aid.

Scholarships from private and public organizations often restrict eligibility to students at regionally accredited schools. For example, National Science Foundation scholarships require candidates to be from institutions with regional accreditation.

Also, regional accreditation meets requirements for corporate tuition reimbursement plans, while national accreditation does not consistently qualify graduates for reimbursement.

Extracurriculars Difference

The range of extracurricular activities differ between regionally and nationally accredited institutions. Regionally accredited colleges often provide abundant opportunities including NCAA sports, academic clubs, and prestigious honor societies (like Phi Beta Kappa). Their extensive university networks can further enrich extracurricular choices.

Nationally accredited institutions generally only offer specialized extracurriculars tailored to their program strengths. 

Transferability Difference

Credits are more widely transferable from regionally accredited schools due to their rigorous accreditation standards. Conversely, credits from nationally accredited schools may not transfer as easily to regionally accredited institutions because national accreditors have different evaluation criteria which do not align with regional standards.

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, “90% of all student credit transfers were between institutions that were accredited regionally, instead of nationally”.

Future Graduate School Admission

Graduate programs, especially at prestigious universities, typically prefer applicants who completed an undergraduate degree at a regionally accredited institution, instead of nationally accredited school.

For example, both Florida State University Graduate School and University of Massachusetts Global require applicants to have earned “a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution”.

What is Programmatic Accreditation

In addition to institutional accreditation, there is another layer known as programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation is accreditation for specific programs, departments, or schools within a higher education institution.

For example, a business program may be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) while a nursing program may be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE. 

Not all academic fields have programmatic accreditation, but where it exists, it indicates the program meets high quality standards.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversees accrediting agencies and provides a directory to help students identify accredited programs. 

For occupations requiring certification or licensing, programmatic accreditation is important for eligibility. Taking engineering as an example, graduates from an unaccredited bachelor’s or associate’s program will probably find themselves ineligible for certain professional exams.

Programmatic accreditation also holds significance for online educational programs, validating that they maintain the same level of quality as their on-campus counterparts. Employers often recognize and prefer degrees from accredited programs.

The table below lists all the common Programmatic accreditations together with the amount of accredited school for each, according to IPEDS.

Programmatic AccreditationsAmount Of Accredited School
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc (Formerly: National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission)1059
Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education843
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education721
American Physical Therapy Association, Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education580
American Dental Association, Commission on Dental Accreditation486
Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology484
American Occupational Therapy Association, Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education383
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics325
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology309
American Psychological Association, Commission on Accreditation269
Council on Education for Public Health231
Commission on English Language Program Accreditation172
American Bar Association, Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar166
Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education135
Liaison Committee on Medical Education129
Teacher Education Accreditation Council, Accreditation Committee127
Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs108
New York State Board of Regents, State Education Department, Office of the Professions (Nursing Education)96
Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools86
Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools83
Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education71
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education70
Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology59
Missouri State Board of Nursing54
Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine51
Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education51
National League for Nursing, Commission for Nurse Education Accreditation48
American Board of Funeral Service Education, Committee on Accreditation45
Master’s Degree- Oriental Medicine in English (MDOME)38
Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc., Accreditation Commission37
Acupuncture (ACUP) – Professional master’s degree and professional master’s level certificate and diploma programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine35
American Veterinary Medical Association, Council on Education33
American Osteopathic Association, Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation29
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation27
American Optometric Association, Accreditation Council on Optometric Education25
Doctor of Acupuncture (DAOM) – Professional post-graduate doctoral programs in acupuncture and in Oriental Medicine22
Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education21
Maryland Board of Nursing20

Why It Is Important to Choose an Accredited College

Accreditation validates that a college meets certain educational standards. Choosing an accredited institution is important for students for several reasons as follow:

  • Accredited institutions ensure that students receive a quality postsecondary education, which is reflected in the academic programs and services they provide.
  • Federal and state financial aid is usually only available to students at accredited schools
  • Credits are more likely to transfer from accredited colleges to other institutions. Without accreditation, previously earned credits probably do not transfer so you have to retake the courses.
  • Students who graduate from an accredited institution are more likely to be recognized by employers. Many employers consider accreditation as a prerequisite for employment or for advancing a career.
  • Graduate schools typically require an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution for admission for applicants. For example, UC San Diego requires applicants for graduate admission to present official evidence of receipt of a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution of higher education.

How Much Financial Aid Can You Get Through an Accredited College

The amount of financial aid a student can receive depends on several factors, including financial need, enrollment status, and the types of aid pursued. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average total financial aid awarded to undergraduate students from accredited colleges ranges from $1,288 to $11,726 per year.

Accredited college students demonstrating financial need can access a mix of grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans.

Currently need-based grants like the Pell Grant or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant provide up to $5,025 and $4,000 respectively per year, according to the data from IPEDS. And other grants like institutional grants average $11,726 annually. Students pursuing loans can access federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans in addition to private student loans

Full-time students tend to receive more aid and have more scholarship opportunities than part-time students.

Why Some Schools Are Not Accredited

Currently, the common reasons schools lack accreditation include being too new, failing to meet criteria, or opting out of the traditional accreditation system.

New schools often have not been operating long enough to go through the lengthy accreditation process, which can take up to 5 years. 

Some schools fail to meet the quality standards set by accrediting bodies, whether it be issues with academic rigor, financial stability, student outcomes, etc. 

Additionally, some non-traditional schools, particularly vocational or alternative programs, tend to choose not to seek accreditation, because they disagree with the mainstream accreditation standards, find the process too costly, or serve niche student populations that make accreditation less important.

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