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Unaccredited Colleges: What They Are, and Why You Should Avoid Them

Mar 5, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

California has over 1,000 colleges and vocational schools with either no or questionable accreditation operating within its borders—without monitoring by an outside agency, regular inspections, or evaluations of the quality of instruction, according to an article in the New York Times.

Many of these unaccredited schools truthfully advertise that they hold “state approval,” a designation that gives the schools legitimacy in the eyes of students—but it’s basically only a license to operate, and it’s obtained not through rigorous assessment, but by filling out a form. State officials often never visit the schools they license.

This is understandably a cause for concern among educators. Some students, however, are drawn to these programs—after all, they tend to take less time than an accredited program, cost much less, and demand less work. They’d be ideal for working students—if only they were legitimately accredited.

Still, it’s never a good idea to enroll in an unaccredited college program. Basically, schools are accredited by one of either six regional, or hundreds of national accrediting bodies.
Generally speaking, you should usually choose a school with regional
accreditation. Most private liberal-arts colleges, universities, and state
schools are accredited by one of these:

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Choosing a college can be difficult. But when it comes to unaccredited colleges, the choice is easy—don’t do it.



  •     New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE)
  •     Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
  •     Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  •     North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC)
  •     Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-ACSCU)
  •     Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-ACSCU)
  •     Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

Which one will depend on the state where the school is located; each accrediting body oversees a different multi-state region in the United States. These accrediting bodies uphold principles of education shared by liberal arts colleges throughout the United States—and promote a well-rounded, rigorous education.

There are also hundreds of national accreditors in the United States. While these are also valid, they are not considered as desirable as regional accreditations in the case of large traditional schools. That said, this type of accreditation is sometimes mandatory under state licensing requirements for some professions. National accreditation is usually for vocational and professional training, and national accreditors may accredit certification programs or departments within larger universities.

Regional accreditation is the best, and national accreditation is sometimes required—and always better than no accreditation at all. Even if it looks tempting, you should never enroll in an unaccredited program. Here’s why.

You’ll have trouble getting—and keeping—a job

Companies care about where you went to school. The big names in universities—Harvard, Yale, Princeton—have special resonance for many hiring managers. Even if you didn’t go to an Ivy League school, attendance at a good state school is a mark in your favor.

If you went to an unaccredited school, however—and employees may find out by looking up your school if they don’t recognize the name—it’s sometimes considered tantamount to lying about your degree. Chances are, you’ll have a hard time getting hired. And if it’s discovered that you earned your degree at an unaccredited school after you’re hired, it could lead to your dismissal.

You won’t be able to transfer credits

Even if you went to a nationally-accredited school, you may have difficulty transferring any of your credits to a school that’s regionally accredited. You’ll have even more trouble if you went to an unaccredited college—and chances are you won’t be able to transfer at all.

You won’t be able to go to graduate school

Graduate schools typically require a Bachelor’s-level education as a baseline for admissions. If you have a Bachelor’s degree from an unaccredited school, the graduate school will likely treat your application as though you have no degree at all—which will definitely hurt your chances.

You won’t receive a quality education

Unaccredited colleges aren’t held to the same educational standards applied to accredited schools—so it’s likely you won’t receive a rigorous education when you go to one. If you’re going to school to learn and not just to earn a degree, this might be the most important factor of all.

Choosing a college can be difficult. But when it comes to unaccredited colleges, the choice is easy—don’t do it. Earning a degree at an unaccredited school is tantamount to earning no degree at all—something you can do without paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in tuition.


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