What is Accreditation and Why It Matters to You

Written ByKay Easton

If you've been looking at obtaining a vocational education, you might wonder what all of the "accreditation" fuss is about. Actually, it is a pretty big deal. Accreditation ensures that the education provided by a postsecondary institution meets certain quality standards. All educational institutions, including vocational schools, are required to undergo the accreditation process on a regular basis, so they can't just let their standards slide or they could lose accreditation.

Who is Responsible For Accreditation?

Regional or national private education associations develop accreditation criteria and conduct peer assessments of educational institutions to ensure that accreditation quality standards are being met. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of associations that it recognizes as authorities on accreditation. Accrediting agencies must also pass a review by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

The following types of agencies provide accreditation:

  • Regional and national accrediting agencies. Can be regional (for example, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities or Western Association of Schools and Colleges) or national (for example, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools).
  • Specialized accrediting agencies. These include accrediting agencies that provide accreditation for schools in special fields of study such as arts and humanities, community and social services, education training, health care, legal and personal care and services.
  • Preaccreditation agencies. Certain educational institutions that are undergoing the accreditation process, which the U.S. Secretary of Education is reasonably certain will eventually attain accreditation, are allowed to operate under preaccreditation, if they are certified by a preaccreditation agency.
  • Accrediting agencies for Title IV financial aid. Title IV financial aid is the most common form of financial aid available from the federal government--Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Work-Study and direct loans. In order for students at an educational institution to be eligible to receive Title IV financial aid, the school must be accredited by one of these agencies. Online schools also need to be accredited for their students to be eligible to receive Title IV aid.

What Does Accreditation Mean To Me?

In addition to being eligible for Title IV financial aid, there are other advantages to attending a vocational school that is accredited:

  • Student success rates. Not all students graduating from an educational institution will succeed, for various reasons. However, one of the requirements for accreditation is that most of an institution's students demonstrate high levels of educational performance.
  • Minimum quality standards. The accreditation process ensures that the institution's curriculum, faculty, administration, student services, quality of libraries and financial well-being meet quality standards.
  • Transfer credits. Most of the time--but not always--accredited schools accept transfer credits only from other accredited schools.
  • Future employment. Many employers do not hire graduates from schools that are not accredited.

How Can I Make Sure That My Vocational School is Accredited?

The caveat from the Department is that although it tries to ensure that the published list is up-to-date, it makes no guarantees. If you cannot find accrediting agency information on the Department's site, contact vocational schools directly and ask if they are accredited and what the name of their accrediting agency is. Then contact the agency directly. If the school cannot provide accreditation information or the accrediting agency doesn't have information that the school is accredited, you should look elsewhere for your vocational education. There are too many excellent vocational schools that are accredited to take a chance on one that isn't.