In the context of universities
and other institutes of higher learning
, to be accredited means to have been certified
by an official body
to have met or exceeded certain criteria
of educational quality
. In the US, accreditation is voluntarily
sought, and is granted by non-governmental bodies.
Universities are normally approved at the state level, by the state in which they reside, but they can bypass this requirement and still be eligible for students to receive federal aid by becoming regionally accredited. There are six organizations that have been authorized by the CHEA to regionally accredit schools in the US.
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
A school that does not meet the requirements of these organizations can still legally exist by meeting state requirements. These are known as 'state licensed' or 'state approved' universities. State licensed schools tend to be less costly, with more accessibility (no residency requirements), and more focus on degree-completion for adults.
Accreditation is very useful for prospective students, especially for students who are completing coursework through the mail or the internet. The knowledge that a school is accredited means that the institution is not a shady "diploma mill", and also helps insure that credits and diplomas earned from the accredited institution will be respected in other schools and in the workplace.