Before you enroll at a college or university, it is very important that you learn about its accreditation, or its professional standing as a degree-granting institution. If you’re unfamiliar with ‘for-profit’ colleges, do a quick internet search for cases involving the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, ITT Technical Institute, or the Corinthian Colleges. There are three different types of schools in the United States.
REGIONALLY ACCRREDITED SCHOOLS
Regionally accredited schools are typically non-profit colleges and universities for students seeking degrees. Regionally accredited schools must have a high percentage of full-time faculty and good library facilities. The classes offered at these schools must be taught by qualified professionals. The credits earned at a regionally accredited school can typically transfer to other regionally accredited schools. Regional accreditation organizations include:
1. The Higher Learning Commission, formerly part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits institutions in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
2. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits schools in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
3. The New England Commission of Higher Education, which accredits institutions in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
4. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which accredits institutions in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
5. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
6. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits schools in California, Hawaii, and the Pacific.
NATIONALLY ACCREDITED SCHOOLS
If a school is only nationally accredited, it might be a for-profit school such as a vocational, career, or technical college that grants certificates. Even though “nationally” sounds more powerful, most degree-seeking students will want to attend schools that are “regionally” accredited. Schools that are only nationally accredited might not have many full-time faculty members or good library facilities. The instructors at these schools may not have the highest degrees in their fields or competency in the subjects they teach. The credits earned at these schools may not transfer to other institutions.
Some schools never receive accreditation of any kind, and others lose their previous accreditation and become “unaccredited.” Schools can lose accreditation when they close, merge with another institution, don’t apply for accreditation renewal, or don’t meet the standards of the accreditation review. The United States Department of Education does not decide which schools are accredited and which are not. Instead, regional and national accrediting organizations review colleges and universities and report their evaluations to the Unites States Department of Education.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation has a searchable database of schools and their accreditation type. Choose the country, state, and maybe city of the school you’re searching for, and choose “Any Accreditor,” but don’t type the name of the school in the search bar for “Institution.” The official name of the university might be different than what you think. Then, search through the results you get to find the school you’re thinking about.
Next, you should consider the type of institution in which you want to enroll. Each type offers a completely different experience in terms of the education style, social life, and alumni relations. Beyond the generic terms “college” or “university,” here are some types to consider.
Sometimes also called “city colleges,” these institutes offer education that follows high school and helps students earn certificates and associate degrees. Students who graduate from community colleges often can transfer, if they wish, to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Historically, community colleges were also called “junior colleges.” However, in recent years, the term “junior college” has been used more frequently for private two-year institutions.
LIBERAL ARTS SCHOOLS
Liberal arts schools have smaller enrollments, emphasize instructor-student interactions, rely very little on teaching assistants, and are typically residential schools, meaning many students live in dorms for their first few years.
Like the term or not, some colleges and universities in the United States are more well known for partying, drugs, and alcohol than others. Popular publications such as Playboy and The Princeton Review publish annual rankings of “party schools,” sometimes against the wishes of school administrators. As a prospective student, you should decide whether you want to be associated with an institution with this reputation or not. Many wonderful research universities such as the University of Wisconsin, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Virginia, and Syracuse University have topped these lists in recent years.
R-1 schools, or research universities at the highest level, focus primarily on the research projects of their professors and graduate students. These universities rely heavily on the work of teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and laboratory assistants to teach classes and meet with students. Students at these institutions might get to take classes with some of the world’s leading researchers and experts. However, these classes could be very large, and students may not have much individual time with these professors and researchers. The only undergraduate-focused college typically on this list is Dartmouth College.
These colleges and universities are focused primarily on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with a few including arts (STEAM). The faculty members of these institutions are often working on research projects tied to governmental and private-sector funding.
These schools are typically two-year colleges that prepare students to enter a specific career after receiving an associate degree. Some of these institutes offer classes that can transfer to a four-year university.