Earning a degree online is becoming a more appealing option for prospective students.
More than 7.3 million undergraduates took courses online in 2011-12, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That reflects a jump in the percentage of undergrads enrolled in one or more distance education courses from 20.6% in 2007-08 to 32% four years later.
At the same time, a degree earned online has become a more acceptable credential to potential employers. A Society for Human Resource Management poll in 2010 found that 79% of organizations hired workers who earned their degrees online.
Whether students plan to attend school online or on campus, a college’s reputation helps them distinguish between a legitimate school and a diploma mill. One way to gauge reputation is by a college’s accreditation status. Graduates of accredited degree programs can find it easier to enter certain career fields, access financial aid and employer-provided tuition benefits, and transfer credits to other colleges.
A 2015 study from The Learning House and Aslanian Market Research found that 63% of online students consider accreditation a top indicator of a reputable school. Yet, students may not necessarily understand what accreditation can mean for them. Let’s take a closer look at four benefits of attending an accredited school.
The nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation describes accreditation as a college’s seal of approval based on requirements that ensure students receive a quality education. Accrediting bodies establish standards that weigh factors such as faculty, student services and courses. In order to maintain accreditation, schools undergo regular reviews, often including a comprehensive evaluation process at least once a decade.
Regional accreditation is widely considered to be a higher form of accreditation than national accreditation. For example, New England College (NEC) is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the same agency that accredits Harvard University.
2. It may be the only way to enter certain careers.
Some professional fields, such as healthcare, law and psychology, require career-seekers to have graduated from accredited institutions. For other professions, a school’s accreditation status indicates to employers that a degree program has met accepted quality standards, and that job candidates have the necessary knowledge and training to succeed in the workplace.
3. Employers may be more likely to provide education assistance.
Some organizations consider accreditation when establishing their educational assistance benefit programs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. As more employers accept a degree earned online as being of equal value to one earned on campus, a college’s accreditation can serve as a measure of program quality.
Employees hoping to use educational benefits may find their companies only provide tuition assistance or reimbursement if they attend an accredited school, a restriction imposed by nearly 38% of employers surveyed in 2015 by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
4. It’s often easier to transfer college credits and qualify for financial aid.
Although transfer credit policies vary, many colleges are more likely to accept credits from other accredited schools. NEC accepts students who attended or are enrolled in an accredited community college as part of its CC2NEC program, and will accept transfer credits earned from accredited schools.
Students planning to apply for financial aid should be aware that the U.S. Department of Education requires schools to be accredited in order to participate in federal financial aid programs.