When Your School Loses Its Accreditation
Accreditation provides a basic standard by which schools are judged. If your school is unaccredited, your degree is not considered valid by employers, other schools, or financial aid organizations.
If you want to find out whether a school you’re considering is accredited, just ask. Most liberal arts colleges in the US are accredited by one of six regional accrediting agencies:
- 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)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
There are also dozens of national accrediting agencies that accredit schools and even departments within schools geared toward specific professions, from occupational therapy to culinary arts. A complete list of legitimate national accrediting agencies—as well as accreditation mills that give fraudulent recognition—can be found in this article, Online College Accreditation 101.
It’s easy to avoid a school that isn’t accredited—simply check its accreditation and make sure the accrediting agency is legitimate. But what happens if your school was accredited when you signed up—but it loses its accreditation before you graduate?
There are several reasons why schools lose their accreditation status. One is that their educational quality has gone downhill. Another is that they’ve been severely financially mismanaged. It’s rare that a school will lose its accreditation, but it does happen. Here’s a look at what that means for you—and what you can do to avoid the situation before it happens.
The Consequences For You
Your degree could be unrecognized by employers
If you earn a degree from an unaccredited school, future employers may not consider it valid. However, if you earned your degree several years before the school lost its accreditation, this may be a different story. The date that you earned your degree will be important if your school loses accreditation.
You could have a hard time transferring credits
If your school loses its accreditation, you may have a tough time convincing other schools to accept your credits when you try to transfer. Policies vary drastically from school to school, however, and it’s possible that some schools will let you transfer credits earned before the accreditation status was lost.
You probably won’t get your tuition money back
You can sue the school, but lawsuits are lengthy and complicated—and it’s unlikely the school will simply issue a refund for the tuition money you spent there. Unless you have the patience and funds for a lawsuit, it’s likely your money is gone—especially if the school lost its accreditation because it was financially mismanaged.
Ask your school’s accrediting agency
It takes a long time for an accrediting agency to review a school. If the accrediting body finds problems, it will put the school on probation before it revokes the accreditation entirely. You can check your school’s accreditation standing by asking the agency with which it is accredited. This information is likely to be easily found on your school’s website and other materials.
You lose your financial aid eligibility
When a school loses its accreditation, it also loses its ability to dispense financial aid. If you suddenly lose your financial aid package and you haven’t violated any eligibility policies—such as letting your grades drop below a certain level—or seen your financial status change significantly, it may be sign of a problem.
The school’s educational quality decreases
If you’re seeing a serious drop in the rigorousness of your classes, the quality of the professors hired, or other issues, it might be a sign that your school would lose accreditation status if it were checked—and it’s only a matter of time before it is. If you’re wondering about a school before you register, talk to the students. If many complain about a recent or ongoing drop-off in quality, this is a bad sign.
Hopefully you will never face this situation—it’s very unusual for a school to lose accreditation. But it does happen. With some research up front, however, you’re more likely to find a high-quality school that is not in danger of losing accreditation.
Washington Post: Southeastern College Loses Accreditation; Fall Term Unlikely
Dallas News: Dallas’ Paul Quinn College Loses Accreditation
New York Times: A Georgia School System Loses Accreditation