Accreditation of Distance Learning Programs
Accreditation means establishing the authenticity of the educational institution through an independent review of the quality standards of its learning programs. Accreditation is compulsory if you want your degree to be recognized and accepted by other educational institutions, professional bodies and employers.
While checking whether a particular institution is accredited, one should check whether the accreditation is from a recognized agency. Accreditation by an unrecognized agency is a common ploy used by many counterfeit organizations.
The USA has no central authority to regulate post-secondary education. Therefore, the practice of accreditation arose to ensure the quality of education. Accreditation can be by government as well as non-government agencies. The US Department of Education, though does not accredit educational institutions, publishes every year a list of recognized accrediting agencies.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a private non-profit national organization, maintains an on-line directory of recognized accrediting agencies. One can check its website http://www.chea.org to confirm whether the accrediting agency is recognized or not.
The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is a nationally recognized accreditation agency for higher education programs that specialize in distance learning. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is another recognized accrediting agency.
However, the most widely recognized accreditations come from the six regional accreditation boards, viz. Middle States Association (MSA), Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Each agency accredits the institutions in its territory. Many prefer accreditation of the regional agencies as they have more stringent requirements than the DETC.
A team of the accrediting agency visits the institute and verifies the quality of its programs. On being satisfied with the standards it’ll accredit the institute and include its name in an official publication or display on its official website.
Accreditation can be for the entire institution or just for a particular program from the institution. One should verify whether the accreditation given to the institute extends to its distance education programs too. Accreditation is subject to a time period after which it requires re-validation. Throughout the validity period the institute and the program in question is monitored by the accrediting agency.
Certain careers require degrees accredited by specialized agencies. For example, if you are pursuing a teaching program through distance learning you must ensure that in addition to the accreditation given to the institute your program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Same is the case with other professions like engineering, law, business management which require accreditation from specified professional body.