Accreditation is a voluntary process that colleges and universities undergo to prove that the programs they offer meet specific standards. Accreditation is given by independent accrediting agencies; in particular, students should seek out institutions accredited by agencies that have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most employers seek candidates who have graduated from accredited institutions and many universities will not allow students to transfer into programs or gain admittance into graduate programs unless they have graduated from an accredited institution.
Accreditation is important because it serves as an indicator that a school’s programs have met a set standard for education quality. Accredited institutions adhere to guidelines when administering programs and awarding degrees, which, in turn, makes employers and university admissions offices more comfortable with candidates’ educational experiences. After all, if a candidate for a job or graduate program has an excellent GPA, but has graduated from a college or university that is not accredited, an employer or university may choose not to accept the candidate because there is no guarantee that the student has learned what he or she needs to succeed.
Accreditation is also important because it distinguishes colleges and universities with strong academic programs from degree mills, which are institutions that award degrees and diplomas without adhering to any standards. In addition, degree mills typically do not provide students with adequate education, leaving them unprepared for work in the field.
What are the types of psychology accreditation?
While there are many independent accrediting agencies, the most reliable indicator that a school is reputable is general, regional accreditation. There are five regional accreditation agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
CHEA also recognizes specific faith-based and career-related accrediting agencies, which can be found on the Council’s website.
A college or university that has earned an approved regional, faith-based, or career-related accreditation can opt to pursue specialized accreditation as well. Specialized accreditations are awarded to specific programs that are offered by colleges and universities. In the United States, high-quality professional psychology degree programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Meanwhile, counseling programs may be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs or the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy.
How do colleges and universities become accredited?
To earn a CHEA-approved regional or faith-based accreditation, colleges and universities undergo an evaluation. Each agency has different processes and standards in place, so the exact procedures will vary by the accrediting agency. However, it is typical for accreditation agencies to require institutions to have been in operation for a certain period of time prior to applying for accreditation. The institutions will then complete self-evaluations of the quality of programs and curricula they offer, after which the agency will analyze data from the school. The agencies will pay particular attention to retention rates, graduation rates, and the ways that programs are implemented. The agencies will also send representatives to visit the schools. Then, once accreditation is awarded, institutions will have to undergo the process all over again after a certain amount of time has elapsed, ensuring that the schools will continue to uphold high standards of education.
Specialized accreditation, like APA accreditation, is more stringent. As with regional or faith-based accreditations, specific programs seeking specialized accreditation will undergo self-evaluations, site visits, and close scrutiny. However, because specialized accreditations focus on specific programs, the evaluation process is conducted on a micro-level, and agencies like the APA can look at specific curricula and detailed program data. This additional accreditation is often an indicator that a program has gone above and beyond what’s expected to become recognized as a superior program. The best online psychology degree programs will therefore have APA accreditation.
How can I tell if a school or program is accredited?
Almost all colleges and universities will provide accreditation information on their websites. However, keep in mind that this is not always a good indicator of whether or not a school or program is accredited. In some cases, the accreditation information listed on the institution’s website will be outdated, incorrect, or misleading. It is therefore important to determine a school’s accreditation status by using trusted resources.
The National Center for Education Statistics provides a reliable database of accredited schools called College Navigator. College Navigator provides up-to-date information on schools’ accreditation statuses, as well as the length of time that a school has been accredited. It also provides information on specialized accreditations, like APA accreditation. Prospective students can also use the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. If a school is not listed in either database, then it is most likely not accredited.
Students who are interested in searching for psychology programs that hold specialized accreditations can visit the APA’s website, which lists accredited programs. Ultimately, learning about a school’s accreditation should be an integral part of the search for online psychology degree programs.