An important way a school can show that it offers quality education is to become accredited. Accreditation means the school has been approved by a non-government agency that reviews schools in a region or occupation. A school should tell you whether it is accredited and who has accredited it.
Accreditation is a voluntary process. While an unaccredited provider may provide worthwhile courses (particularly if a degree is not important to you), you don't have the assurance of this external review. Beware of statements that accreditation doesn't matter.
To become accredited, institutions and programs must demonstrate that they meet standards established by the accrediting agency. There are two types of accrediting agencies:
- institutional accrediting agencies that establish standards for the entire school
- specialized accrediting agencies that establish standards for programs in specific fields of study, such as nursing or engineering
Warning: Phony operators have created their own "accrediting" bodies with legitimate-sounding names.
The federal government reviews and recognizes accrediting agencies. Ask the school which federally recognized accrediting agencies have approved it.
If you are preparing for a licensed profession or are seeking professional certification, you should make sure that the program or course satisfies any specialized accrediting requirements. You may not be eligible for licensure or certification if the program is not recognized by a particular specialized accrediting agency.
Private training firms which do not offer degrees usually do not qualify for or seek accreditation. For computer training, look instead for certification by computer software firms such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems or Novell.