Monday, March 11, 2013

Accredited vs. Non-Accredited: What's the Big Deal?

You may have seen ads on TV for schools specific to a certain profession, such as becoming a chef or medical assistant. These ads picture people happy that they chose their careers and they seem very happily placed in great jobs.

Be careful when you consider attending these schools: many of them are not accredited. What does that mean?

Here's the government's explanation:

Accreditation is term regulated by the Secretary of Education and the Department of Education. Accreditation means that the school has put together curriculum, professors, classes and programs that meet certain higher standards. Some nonaccredited schools are accredited by the state or advertise accreditation but are only self-accredited.
In other words...  A school is accredited if it is recognized by a federal accreditation agency. This means that the education offered at this school is of a high quality that matches standards set on a national level, and includes a comprehensive education, rather than a focus on just one subject.

The non-accredited school may present itself as the most practical way to get out in the workforce with a so-called 'degree' as soon as possible. That's because you won't get more than minimal hands-on training for your career. There are two major problems associated with a non-accredited school:

1. Classes you have taken there will likely not transfer to any other school, accredited or not; so if you were to decide to take further education, or change to another career which might be related, it would be as if you had never taken any classes before. However, if you attend an accredited school, credit for a number of classes is good forever and can be transferred to another accredited school, so you would not have to repeat them.

2. Non-accredited schools are sometimes not qualified to receive any financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans which are available to accredited schools. This would mean that you would simply have to take out personal loans and pay for the school directly.

Be especially wary of ads you might see in a paper or magazine offering a 'degree' for an exceptionally low cost and claiming you don't even need any training; just submit your fee and you will receive a diploma. Some will say you can 'earn' a 'degree' through your life experiences. These are completely bogus. Also, take caution when enrolling in online schools: some are fully accredited, and some are not.

You may also find the cost of one of these schools is particularly high-considerably higher than an accredited one. Or, the cost is very low because it is not a particularly thorough education. A word to the wise: Getting someone at these schools to give you a true dollar figure as to the cost of the program can be difficult. They will also be very persuasive in trying to 'talk you into it.' Accredited schools will be above board about all costs and will encourage you to make your own decision.

Schools can offer a program and call it a "Bachelors" or "Associates" program and say that when you finish you will obtain those 'degrees,' but in reality, from a non-accredited school they are not recognized by many employers.

Non-accredited schools may not meet standards required to be recognized. A good example would be a non-accredited school of nursing. If the Board of Nursing does not approve of ('recognize') the school, you may not be able to take the NCLEX Boards exam in order to be granted your R.N. degree. Thus, you may have taken classes which 'don't count' and which will not be recognized when you decide to take classes at an accredited school.

You can rest assured that all Minnesota State colleges and universities, (MNSCU) including community colleges and technical colleges, are fully accredited, as are many other major colleges and universities. If in doubt, there's no harm in calling to make sure.

How can you tell whether a school is actually accredited? Be careful before making a commitment to any school. Some of them are even inventing their own "accreditation agencies" that they will refer you to, which are not valid on the same level as Federal recognition agencies.  Look into these questions to assure yourself that this is an accredited school:

  • Ask which federally recognized accreditation agencies have approved the school. Still in doubt? Go to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation at:     -At this site, you can check on 8,200 schools and 20,700 programs to see if they are accredited.
  • Check to make sure it is operating legally in your state: check with your state Board of Education. In Minnesota, call the Minnesota Office of Higher Education at 651-642-0567 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3866
  • See if the school has any complaints against it, and what those complaints entail.
  • Check with employers in your planned career: Would they accept school credentials from this school? You can call a business and ask someone in their Human Resources department.
  • What are their occupational licensure requirements?
  • Contact the school's counseling center and ask questions of them; they need to know about accreditation of their own school.
  • Find out if credits are transferable from the school to an accredited school (typically, they are not); you will best find this out by contacting a school you know to be accredited; that is, call a local state college or university or well-known private college or university, ask for someone in advising, and ask about the other school's credits. Have a TRIO advisor? He or she will know the answer, too, or will be able to find out.
We also suggest that, if you are still in high school, you ask a school counselor or advisor about this issue. If you are in college and considering switching to a non-accredited school, ask an advisor why this might not be your best choice.

Here is an excellent site that discusses accreditiation issues:

Be sure you aren't being fooled by a school offering a useless 'degree.'

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