In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Higher Education Act. Its broad purpose was “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.”
Today, when an institution of higher education is accredited, it is able to provide financial assistance to students—but our expert explains how accreditation means so much more.
Not On the Radar
“Accreditation isn’t really on a lot of radars when students and parents are looking at schools,” says Kevin Shriner, an Academic Strategist with Pearson. He’s been working in and with higher education institutions since 1992.
(He occasionally teaches a college-level course called “The History of Higher Education.”)
Kevin says any institution can be un-accredited.
“Accreditation mostly concerns whether a school can award a student’s federal financial aid,” he says. “But in important ways, whether a school is accredited is also a measure of its student resources, faculty, and quality of coursework.”
How Schools Are Accredited
“Details about accreditation can be confusing,” Kevin says.
For starters, accreditation of schools does NOT come directly from the federal government.
Instead, the work is done by “private educational associations“—regional accrediting agencies like The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (covering AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX and VA) and The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (covering AK, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT and WA).
“These are the organizations that measure a school’s academic rigor,” Kevin says. “And only the agencies that are formally recognized by the federal government can designate accreditation that opens the door for federal financial aid.”
Plus, the process takes a long time.
“From applications to reviews to site visits, accreditation can take a few years to achieve and then must be maintained through annual reports and self-studies,” Kevin says.
Like Self-Regulation in Higher Education
“Regional accrediting agencies set hundreds of education policies and standards for the schools they represent,” Kevin says. “When a school voluntarily agrees to be accredited, in essence, they’re agreeing to meeting those standards.”
It’s like self-regulation in higher education—or a peer review process.
“So when parents and students are looking at schools,” he says, “accreditation can be associated with quality education.”
Kevin says this includes everything from access to advisors and tutors, an IT infrastructure, qualifications of faculty members, and whether credits can be transferred to other institutions.
Learning That’s Grounded in Standards
“It’s important to find an accredited school,” Kevin says.
Pearson only partners with accredited schools because, he says, “we know they are dedicated to student success and they’re doing education in the right way.”
“These are schools that are focused on learning and quality student outcomes,” Kevin says. “We want to be a part of education that’s grounded in good, quality standards.”