One of the most important considerations for a prospective college student is the type of course accreditation that a college or university maintains. If the school or university offers accredited courses and degree programs, it typically is an assurance that earning a degree will be worth the time, effort and money that a student invests. The different types of course accreditation include regional, national and international accreditation, as well as accreditation within a specific field of study and private or program-based accreditation. Courses offered by professional associations rather than colleges or universities also can be accredited by various organizations.
Accreditation agencies typically provide course accreditation and program accreditation based on specific criteria that determine quality assurance, credibility and competency. An accreditation is valid for a designated period of time, after which the school or program must again prove its credibility to retain accreditation. Getting course accreditation and keeping it are essential for a school or program to be able to remain reputable and to attract students. There are organizations that oversee accrediting agencies and maintain databases of accredited schools, programs and courses on regional, national or international levels.
Regional accreditation is offered within a specific geographical area. In the United States, this is considered the most important type of accreditation for colleges and universities. National accreditation is offered within an entire country, and it often is specialized. It might focus on a particular field or a particular type of schools, such as religious or faith-based schools.
International accreditation can apply to multiple countries or on a worldwide basis. These international accrediting organizations also can provide accreditation for online courses that are available worldwide. Some international agencies provide accreditation for other accrediting agencies.
Private or program-specific accreditation is important for some fields of study, such as business, education, healthcare and psychology. Course accreditation or program accreditation in these fields lends additional credibility to the degree. Among the numerous specialized accreditation organizations are those that enhance credentials for art and music courses, teacher education, legal studies, speech pathology, nursing and medical studies.