The United States has no centralized authority over colleges or universities. To insure a level of quality in educational institutions and programs, peer review known as "Accreditation" evolved. You may want to check with the institution of your choice to find out if it is accredited. Accreditation may be important if you want to maintain a record of your degree (or courses) that will be accepted by other colleges and universities.
Who does the Accrediting? National or regional private agencies known as "Accrediting Organizations" develop guidelines and perform evaluations. The Organizations assess whether or not the established guidelines are being met by peer institutions. Institutions that apply for and meet the Accrediting Organization's standards receive accreditation from that Organization.
There are two types of accreditation, one is "Institutional" and the other is "Programmatic or Specialized." Regional or National Accrediting Organizations perform institutional accreditation. Programmatic and/or Specialized accreditation usually applies to programs, schools, or departments that are part of an institution.
Regional Accreditation: The most widely recognized form of accreditation in the United States for degree programs is "Regional Accrediting." A listing of the Regional Accrediting Organizations can be viewed at Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), Directories. All six Regional Accrediting Organizations are considered equal and participating institutions generally view degrees and credits earned as such. Acceptance of students or courses taken is always the choice of the receiving institution.
Programmatic or Specialized Accreditation: Regulated by state or national licensing boards, some college departments hold special accreditation, such as the American Bar Association accreditation. Programmatic or Specialized Accreditation can also apply to programs within a non-educational setting, such as a hospital. You will find that some professional, specialized, and vocational institutions are accredited by a Specialized or Professional Accrediting Organization. A listing of the recognized Specialized/Professional Accrediting Organizations can be viewed at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Also, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is a widely recognized United States accrediting agency for distance learning colleges. The DETC is a clearinghouse of information about distance education and sponsors a nationally recognized accrediting agency: The Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council. The DETC promotes educational standards and ethical business practices within the distance study field. Keep in mind, however, that credits and degrees earned from DETC institutions may not be accepted by regionally accredited institutions.
There are colleges and universities that offer distance learning programs that are not accredited by any recognized agency. The programs offered are often very specialized programs, such as Web design or computer software training. It may not be important to you that the program or training you desire is unrecognized by any of the above-mentioned accrediting organizations.
This information is provided as a guide only and is to be used in that light. If regional or national accrediting is important to you, then you should be aware of it. If DETC accreditation is what you seek, then you should also be aware that it is available. The choice is yours and yours only. If the college you choose has the criteria that meets your personal and career goals, then you will have the peace of mind knowing that you did some research.