Note: Today’s post is a lightly-edited excerpt from Graduate School: Winning Strategies for Getting In (2 ed.)
In the most general sense, to say that a university or graduate program is accredited means that it has been recognized by some official authority as providing the highest level of advanced training. The official body gives accreditation when the institution or graduate program meets certain standards. Accreditation is based on several factors, including: the overall mission and the specific aims and objectives of the program or school, the admission requirements, the curriculum and the quality of training, the qualifications and reputation of the faculty members, and the services available to students.
If a university has not received accreditation, that means its Master’s or Ph.D. degrees will not be widely recognized as indicating that one has received the highest level of training or acquired knowledge in his or her field. Schools that do not meet the standards set out by the accrediting authority are referred to as non-accredited, and if you are serious about using your graduate degree as a qualification for some type of successful career, you should avoid non-accredited programs and schools.
Many business organizations provide vocational or academic training in some field, and attempt to lure students by referring to themselves as colleges or universities, and by offering diplomas, undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, or professional degrees. Many such programs are not accredited, so one must be careful to check the credentials of any school or graduate program before giving it serious consideration.
Accreditation in the United States
Accreditation of universities and graduate schools occurs at the regional and national levels. Both forms are similar, inasmuch as they are both conducted by non-profit organizations, and both are institution-wide in scope. In some disciplines, there is a special form of accreditation for graduate programs that offer a Master’s or Ph.D. degree within the particular discipline.
The commissions that determine regional accreditation typically consist of faculty members and administrators from the affiliated institutions, as well as one or more public member. There are six regional accreditation agencies for colleges and universities in the United States. You can check the directories of accredited institutions on the following websites:
The U.S. Department of Education also has a national database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx
In addition to regional accreditation, there are also national accrediting bodies for schools and graduate programs in certain disciplines:
The American Psychological Association accredits education and training programs in professional psychology within the U.S. and Canada. They cover doctoral programs, internships, and postdoctoral residency programs; they do not accredit bachelors or master’s programs.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education conducts accreditation of undergraduate and graduate programs in education.
The Association of Theological Schools accredits professional and academic graduate programs in the theological disciplines. They cover schools within the U.S. and Canada.
The Distance Education and Training Council accredits online graduate programs.
The American Bar Association accredits law schools.
Accreditation in Canada
The accreditation of schools and graduate programs in Canada works pretty much the same as in the U.S. The provinces and territories are responsible for all levels of education, and each has a charter that covers the requirements for a university, but there is no formal system of accreditation. Below are links to bodies that accredit professional programs at Canadian universities.
The following are some of the discipline-specific accrediting agencies in Canada:
The Canadian Psychological Association accredits graduate programs in professional psychology.
The Canadian Association of Social Worker Education conducts accreditation of schools of social work.
The Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association accredits programs in counseling.
For speech-language pathology and audiology, there is the Council for Accreditation of Canadian University Programs in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology.
The Canadian Forestry Accreditation Board deals with the accreditation of graduate programs in forestry.
Finally, accreditation of law schools in Canada is done by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
You can also find a more complete list of bodies that accredit professional programs at Canadian universities here.
Remember that accreditation is a voluntary process that is undertaking by the institution or specialized program in question and without it there is no guarantee that the institution or graduate program meets any kind of minimum standards. If you are planning on a licensed profession or require professional certification, then you should avoid all non-accredited programs, otherwise, you may find yourself with a degree that you worked hard for, but can’t use.