ONLINE PROGRAM ACCREDITATION | WHY IT MATTERS
Due to the convenience, flexibility, and prevalence of online degrees, enrolling in an online program is more popular now than it has ever been. There are a million different institutions that offer online options, and with so many variables to consider, one of the primary places to begin in your selection process is determining whether or not the online program is reliable and accredited. Choosing an online program from an accredited institution has implications that last well after you graduate, so understanding the weight of accreditation is imperative for your success both in school and after.
What is an accredited online program?
Accreditation is essentially the stamp of approval by a third-party governing body that states a particular school and program has both met and is maintaining a high level of educational standards in their degree offerings. Schools earn accreditation through an ongoing series of evaluations that consider the program’s mission, resources, and achievements. Practically speaking, the accrediting body provides accountability to maintain the quality of professors, class content, and student outcomes.
There are varying regional and national agencies that accredit particular programs based on their location and subject matter. For example, nursing programs are monitored by a number of regional bodies that focus specifically on nursing education while business programs may be governed by other subsets of business-specific accrediting bodies. These accrediting agencies are legitimized through inclusion on a vetted list of reputable agencies posted on the US Department of Education’s website.
Does accreditation matter?
In short - yes. Accreditation is integral to maintaining the quality of many resources and outcomes that you will experience as a student.
Practically speaking, if you choose to enroll in a program that is not accredited, you are not eligible for federal financial aid, and you will not have the opportunity to obtain any official professional licensures as a byproduct of your degree - including teaching licenses, accounting certifications, healthcare credentials, and more. Holding a degree on paper is only as good as the weight that your peers and potential employers will give that piece of paper.
Additionally, when you graduate and submit your resume to a potential employer, the inclusion of an unaccredited degree will very likely call into question not only the validity of your degree but the quality of training you received as a whole. For more technical, standardized disciplines like accounting, unaccredited degrees are an immediate non-starter - and even for degrees with the broadest career trajectories, having an unaccredited degree will likely land your resume at the bottom of the pile.
Additionally, if you ever decide to apply for graduate school, having an unaccredited bachelor’s degree will not afford you the opportunity to continue your education. As a prerequisite for nearly every graduate program, you must have earned a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree.
How do I know if a program is unaccredited?
Figuring out whether or not an online program is accredited comes down to taking the time to conduct thorough research during your selection process. Look for formal accrediting recognitions on the institution’s website, find out what current students are saying about the quality of their experience, and investigate the types of careers and industries of successful alumni.
In most every case, if a program sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. If the price point is much lower than comparable programs, if credits are easily earned with very little investment of time and energy, or if the institution says students are not eligible for federal financial aid, those are red flags that should be investigated further before investing any of your own time or money into a particular online program.
As you’re searching for the online program that is right for you, try not to get caught up in only looking at big-box, national online schools. Your local college or university very likely offers quality, personalized online programs. There are a number of those online programs in SC that are based locally, meaning, you will have access to a more robust network of professional contacts that could spur professional growth more quickly than if you had attended a national, for-profit online program.
Additionally, looking at a locally-based online program could allow you the opportunity to experience classes in varied delivery formats. For example, if you struggle with math, you could take an evening math course with a professor in a face-to-face format, while still completing the majority of your degree online.
In the end, accreditation boils down to ensuring that you receive a quality degree. Investing your time and money into an online program should provide the highest return on investment possible, and accreditation is one of the best foundations for that return.
Limestone College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). If you’re ready to start the enrollment process for an online program at an accredited institution, reach out to one of our enrollment experts today to begin the process.