Introduction to Accreditation
Accreditation is a validation—a statement by a group of persons
who are, theoretically, impartial experts in higher education, that a given school, or department within a school, has been thoroughly investigated and found worthy of approval. To offer recognized accreditation, an accrediting agency must meet at least one of the following three criteria: Recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation in Washington, DC, Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, Recognized by (or more commonly, a part of) their relevant national education agency. Schools they accredit are routinely listed in one or more of the following publications: the International Handbook of Universities (a UNESCO publication), the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook, the World Education Series, published by PIER, or the Countries Series, published by NOOSR in Australia.
Under guidelines, accrediting agencies are required to evaluate these twelve matters, but the way they do it can be individually
determined: Curricula, Faculty, Facilities, equipment, and supplies, Fiscal and administrative capacity, Student support services, Program length, tuition, and fees in relation to academic objectives, Program length, tuition, and fees in relation to credit received, Student achievement (job placement, state licensing exams, etc), Student loan repayments, Student complaints received by or available to the accreditor, Compliance with student aid rules and regulations, Everything else, including recruiting, admissions practices, calendars, catalogues and other publications, grading practices, advertising and publicity.
There have been quite an extraordinary number of new accrediting
associations started in the last few years, and they are getting
harder and harder to check out, either because they seem to exist
only on the Internet, or because they exist in so many places: an
address in Hawaii, another in Switzerland, a third in Germany, a
fourth in Hong Kong, and so on. Some new ones have adopted the clever idea of bestowing their accreditation on some major universities, quite possibly unbeknownst to those schools. Then they can say truthfully, but misleadingly, that they accredit such well-known schools. This is the accreditation equivalent of those degree mills that send their diplomas to some famous people, and then list those people as graduates.
It seems extraordinary that any school would lie about something so easily checked as accreditation, but it is done. Degree mills have unabashedly claimed accreditation by a recognized agency. Such claims are totally untrue. They are counting on the fact that many people won't check up on these claims. Salespeople trying to recruit students sometimes make accreditation claims that are patently false. Quite a few schools ballyhoo their "fully accredited" status but never mention that the accrediting agency is unrecognized, and so the accreditation is of little or (in most cases) no value. One accrediting agency (the unrecognized International Accrediting Commission for Schools, Colleges and Theological Seminaries) boasted that two copies of every accreditation report they issue are "deposited in the Library of Congress." That sounds impressive, until you learn that for $20, anyone can copyright anything and be able to make the identical claim.
Words That Do Not Mean "Accredited" Some unaccredited schools use
terminology in their catalogs or advertising that might have the
effect of misleading unknowledgeable readers. Here are six common
Pursuing accreditation.- A school may state that it is "pursuing
accreditation," or that it "intends to pursue accreditation." But
that says nothing whatever about its chances for achieving same. It's like saying that you are practicing your tennis game, with the intention of playing in the finals at Wimbledon. Don't hold your breath.
Chartered.- In some places, a charter is the necessary document that a school needs to grant degrees. A common ploy by diploma mill operators is to form a corporation, and state in the articles of incorporation that one of the purposes of the corporation is to grant degrees. This is like forming a corporation whose charter says that it has the right to appoint the Pope. You can say it, but that doesn't make it so.
Licensed or registered. - This usually refers to nothing more than a business license, granted by the city or county in which the school is located, but which has nothing to do with the legality of the school, or the usefulness of its degrees.
Recognized.- This can have many possible meanings, ranging from some level of genuine official recognition at the state level, to having been listed in some directory often unrelated to education, perhaps published by the school itself. Two ambitious degree mills (Columbia State University and American International University) have published entire books that look at first glance like this one, solely for the purpose of being able to devote lengthy sections in them to describing their phony schools as "the best in America."
Authorized.- In California, this has had a specific meaning .
Elsewhere, the term can be used to mean almost anything the school wants it to—sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. A Canadian degree mill once claimed to be "authorized to grant degrees." It turned out that the owner had authorized his wife to go ahead and print the diplomas.
Approved.- In California, this has a specific meaning . In other
locations, it is important to know who is doing the approving. Some not-for-profit schools call themselves "approved by the U.S.
Government," which means only that the Internal Revenue Service has approved their nonprofit status for income taxes—and nothing
more. At one time, some British schools called themselves "Government Approved," when the approval related only to the school-lunch program.
Our Thanks to: Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by John Bear, Ph.D.,
and Mariah Bear, M.A.
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