List of Online Colleges by Accreditation
Prospective students can use our accreditation tool below to ensure the schools they are considering are one of the 594 regionally, nationally, or programmatically accredited educational institutions. Our programmatic accreditation table will allow students to search accreditations by degree program.
Schools earn accreditation when an independent agency has conducted a thorough evaluation and review of the school and is satisfied that the university not only has the financial resources to operate on an ongoing basis, but also meets quality academic standards. The U.S. Department of Education accredits colleges and universities as a mark of quality. All schools on our site are accredited.
Types of Accreditation
It is important to note that not all accreditation is equal. There are accrediting agencies on the regional and national levels, and other agencies that focus on specific academic disciplines or institutions. In fact, some schools and programs are accredited by more than one type of agency.
Regional accreditation is the most prestigious form of recognition. In the U.S., there are six recognized accrediting agencies that review academic institutions within specific geographic locations:
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
There are several accrediting agencies that recognize schools across the country. While the U.S. Department of Education does not accredit online schools, it does maintain a list of accrediting bodies that it recognizes. Some of the most well-known agencies include:
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
Hybrid accrediting agencies set standards for specialized programs at both freestanding institutions and large institutions. The following hybrid accrediting agencies review programs and units within vocational or specialized schools and postsecondary institutions:
- Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (CAATS)
- National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)
- Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
Also known as professional or specialized accreditation, programmatic accreditation is designed for specialized colleges, schools, programs, or departments within an institution or university that has already received accreditation. These agencies look for specific aspects of a program or department that set it apart from others. Examples include:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- American Bar Association (ABA)
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
There are more than 40 specialized accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in the following categories: healthcare, personal care and services, community and social services, legal studies, education training, and arts and humanities.
How Schools and Programs Become Accredited
According to the CHEA, accreditation is not only a status but a process as well. Obtaining accreditation is neither easy or quick, particularly for educational institutions seeking approval for the very first time. However, while the main purpose of accreditation is to demonstrate proof of a legitimate school, some universities gain important benefits themselves through accreditations.
Online colleges are finding themselves in competition with each other to offer career preparation services and provide valuable education to students. In addition, these online universities often strive to be considered among the top colleges in the country. Accreditation can help them to meet these goals and therefore attract the best students. The basic steps in the process for schools, whether on-campus or online, to achieve and maintain accreditation, are as follows:
The first step is a written self-assessment that the school prepares for itself. The purpose of the self-study is to evaluate the institution's operations as they measure against the accrediting agency's 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.
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 standards of the accrediting agency for learning resources, support services, faculty, educational programs, effectiveness, administration, and institutional mission.
This step usually takes the form of a series of meetings in which the accrediting agency sits down with students, administrators, and faculty to gain a more in-depth view of the institution and how "real people" feel about the school.
Following the initial evaluation, the accrediting agency makes a decision as to whether or not the school has successfully met its standards. In addition, the decision may include recommendations that the school agree to constant monitoring to ensure that the standards continue to be met.
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 will vary 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.
The Importance of Accreditation for Students
Prospective students have likely spent some time comparing various programs and schools. Knowing the accreditation status of each institution in which a student is interested can help him or her to make the best choice from programs in his or her chosen field of study. There are also several other reasons why accreditation matters:
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 non-accredited 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 hold accreditation if they will be offering financial aid to students. This is also true for several state aid programs.
Finding a Job
In many cases, employers view graduates of accredited colleges as more valuable than those who earned their degrees from unaccredited institutions. Accreditation offers some assurance that the school maintained high academic standards and prepared its student in terms of skills and knowledge. Accreditation may also be required as part of certification or licensure procedures in some fields.
Similar to how employers might view a graduate of an accredited school, graduate school admissions offices may also look more favorably on students who successfully completed accredited undergraduate degree programs. In many cases, graduation from an accredited university is considered a prerequisite for application and enrollment in graduate-level programs.
Fraudulent Accreditation Agencies
Verifying that an institution is accredited is an excellent way to ensure that a student is not enrolling in a "diploma mill" that offers subpar education. However, it is also just as important to ensure that the agency that is accrediting a particular institution is also legitimate.
The CHEA and other organizations monitor accrediting agencies to ensure that they are providing adequate reviews of schools and degree programs. According to the CHEA, accreditation mills are untrustworthy providers of quality assurance and accreditation that offer certification of quality schools without having the means or resources to do so.
In order to determine whether a school or accrediting agency is legitimate, here are several questions that the CHEA has created:
- Are there few requirements for graduation or accreditation?
- Does the organization make claims for which it has no evidence?
- Are there any, or few, standards for quality that are published by the agency or organization?
- Does the agency or organization allow degrees or accredited status to be purchased?
If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions for an accrediting agency or school, it may be a degree or accreditation mill.