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A Note on Accreditation of Academic Facility of all Natures and Statures:

The Online Distance Learning through the World Wide Web Degree Guide Center:

Distance learning in whichever medium is not a new idea as it has been practiced since the turn of the last century. The old correspondence school has gained new life with the advent of the Internet with advantageously extended "richness" and "reach" (Weigel, 2000).

These online programs are not an alternative for those who can not attend a traditional education program, they are rather designed for adults who have specific goals and limited available time.

Many online programs lacked uniformity in the quality level of Educational Programs in the past, in contrast, modern online programs are designed to be more focused and purposeful. Advancement in the quality and scope of learning management systems (LMS) can be credited towards this modern shift in our programs. Few other reasons given, include greater availability of online courses, an increased demand for additional training and/or degrees used for career advancement, increased Internet access to the point of ubiquity, and increased time pressure that individuals face. Students or professionals pursuing their education may use former commuting time for active learning.

It used to be that the only way to get a collegeeducation was to fork over a lot of money and spend hours sitting in a stuffy classroom. But things have changed, and more and more schools are delivering the classroom by mail, on video, and over the Internet directly to you, wherever and whenever you want. Whether for love of learning, career advancement, or personal satisfaction. You can get an education faster, cheaper, and better nontraditionally.

The story on accreditation
Accreditation Guide | Accreditation |Accredited Schools

Accreditation "Lite"

(This is a complex subject. If you read nothing else, read this small section.)
Generally, you can't go wrong if you choose a school accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. There are some legitimate and useful unaccredited schools. There are a very few legitimate but unrecognized accrediting agencies. There are a great many phony accrediting agencies. The world of accreditation is slowly changing, generally in the direction of dealing more with outcomes: how schools teach or train their students and how well the students perform.
What Is GAAP?
Any school can claim that it is accredited; the use of that word is not regulated in any way. So, how can you tell if a school is on the level? The following simple guidelines delineate whether or not a school can be considered to be accredited by an agency recognized under GAAP, Generally Accepted Accrediting Principles. (The acronym is, of course, borrowed from the field of accounting. GAAP standards are the highest to which accountants can be held, and we feel that accreditation should be viewed as an equally serious matter.) In the U.S., there is near-unanimous agreement on GAAP (although not everyone calls it this, the concept is the same) by the relevant key decision-makers: university registrars and admissions officers, corporate human resources officers, and government agencies.
Note that in some countries, the word accredited is not used, although that country's evaluation process (e.g., the British Royal Charter) is accepted as "accredited" under GAAP. Note too that accreditors that do not meet the standards of GAAP are not necessarily bad, illegal, or fake. They simply would not be generally accepted as recognized accreditors.
GAAP Criteria To offer recognized accreditation under GAAP, and accrediting agency must meet at least one of the following four criteria:
Recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation in Washington, DC
Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education
Recognized by (or more commonly, a part of) their relevant national education agency
Schools they accredit are routinely listed in one or more of the following publications: the International Handbook of Universities (a UNESCO publication), the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook, the World Education Series, published by PIER, or the Countries Series, published by NOOSR in Australia.
Accreditation: The Whole Story Accreditation is perhaps the most complex, confusing, and important issue in higher education. It is surely the most misunderstood and the most misused concept both intentionally and unintentionally. In selecting a school, there are four important things to know about accreditation:
What is it?
Why is it important in certain situations?
What are the many kinds of accreditors?
What are the controversies surrounding accreditation?
We will address these matters more or less in this order.
What Is Accreditation?
Quite simply, it is a validation a statement by a group of persons who are, theoretically, impartial experts in higher education, that a given school, or department within a school, has been thoroughly investigated and found worthy of approval.
Accreditation is a peculiarly American concept. In every other country in the world, all colleges and universities either are operated by the government, or gain the full right to grant degrees directly from the government, so there is no need for a separate, independent agency to say that a given school is OK.
In the United States, accreditation is an entirely voluntary process, done by private, nongovernmental agencies. As a result of this lack of central control or authority, there have evolved good accrediting agencies and bad ones, recognized ones and unrecognized ones, legitimate ones and phony ones.
So when a school says, "we are accredited," that statement alone means nothing. You must always ask, "Accredited by whom?" Unfortunately, many consumer-oriented articles and bulletins simply say that one is much safer dealing only with accredited schools, but they do not attempt to unravel the complex situation. We hear regularly from distressed people who say, about the degrees they have just learned are worthless, "But the school was accredited; I even checked with the accrediting agency." The agency, needless to say, turned out to be as phony as the school. The wrong kind of accreditation can be worse than none at all.
Normally, a school wishing to be accredited will make application to the appropriate accrediting agency. After a substantial preliminary investigation to determine that the school is probably operating legally and run legitimately, it may be granted correspondent or provisional status. Typically this step will take anywhere from several months to several years or more, and when completed does not imply any kind of endorsement or recommendation, but is merely an indication that the first steps on a long path have been taken.
Next, teams from the accrediting agency, often composed of faculty of already accredited institutions, will visit the school. These "visitations," conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, are to observe the school in action, and to study the copious amounts of information that the school must prepare, relating to its legal and academic structure, educational philosophy, curriculum, financial status, planning, and so forth.
After these investigations and, normally, following at least two years of successful operation (sometimes a great deal more), the school may be advanced to the status of "candidate for accreditation." Being a candidate means, in effect, "Yes, you are probably worthy of accreditation, but we want to watch your operation for a while longer."
This "while" can range from a year or two to six years or more. The great majority of schools that reach candidacy status eventually achieve full accreditation. Some accreditors do not have a candidacy status; with them it is an all-or-nothing situation. (The terms "accredited" and "fully accredited" are used interchangeably. There is no such thing as "partly accredited.")
Once a school is accredited, it is visited by inspection teams at infrequent intervals (every five to ten years is common) to see if it is still worthy of its accreditation. The status is always subject to review at any time, should new programs be developed or should there be any significant new developments, positive or negative.
Note: Everything in the foregoing section applies to accreditation as done by recognized agencies. Many of the other agencies, even those that are not illegal, will typically accredit a new school within days, even minutes, of its coming into existence.
The Importance of Accreditation Although accreditation is undeniably important to both schools and students (and would-be students), this importance is undermined and confused by these three factors:
There are no significant national standards for accreditation. What is accreditable in New York may not be accreditable in California, and vice versa. The demands and standards of the group that accredits schools of chemistry may be very different from the people who accredit schools of forestry. And so on. Some decent schools (or departments within schools) are not accredited, either by their own choice (since accreditation is a totally voluntary and often very expensive procedure), or because they are too new (all schools were unaccredited at one time in their lives) or too experimental (some would say too innovative) for the generally conservative accreditors. Many very bad schools claim to be accredited but it is always by unrecognized, sometimes nonexistent accrediting associations, often of their own creation. Still, accreditation is the only widespread system of school evaluation that we have. A school's accreditation status can be helpful to the potential student in this way: while some good schools are not accredited, it is very unlikely that any very bad or illegal school is authentically accredited. (There have been exceptions, but they are quite rare.)
In other words, authentic accreditation is a pretty good sign that a given school is legitimate. But it is important to remember that lack of accreditation need not mean that a school is either inferior or illegal. Authentic accreditation is based on performance, not proposed performance.
We stress the term authentic accreditation, since there are very few laws or regulations anywhere governing the establishment of an accrediting association. Anyone can start a degree mill, then turn around and open an accrediting agency next door, give his school its blessing, and begin advertising "fully accredited degrees." Indeed, this has happened many times.
The crucial question, then, is this: Who accredits the accreditors?
Who Accredits the Accreditors? The situation is confusing, unsettled, and still undergoing change and redefinition for the third millennium. To get some sort of a handle on the situation, it will be helpful to have a bit of a historical perspective. In this instance, it makes some sense to begin in 1980, when the Republican party platform echoed Ronald Reagan's belief that the Department of Education should be closed down, since it was inappropriate for the federal government to meddle in matters better left to the states and to private enterprise.
At that time, there were two agencies, one private and one governmental, that had responsibility for evaluating and approving or recognizing accrediting agencies:
The U.S. Department of Education's Eligibility and Agency Evaluation Staff (EAES), which is required by law to "publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies which [are determined] to be reliable . . . as to the quality of training offered." This is done as one measure of eligibility for federal financial aid programs for students. EAES also had the job of deciding whether unaccredited schools could qualify for federal aid programs, or their students for veterans' benefits. This was done primarily by what was called the "four-by-three" rule: Proof that credits from at least four students were accepted by at least three accredited schools (12 total acceptances). If they were, then the unaccredited school was recognized by the Department of Education for that purpose. Schools qualifying under the four-by-three rule had to submit evidence of continued acceptance of their credits by accredited schools in order to maintain their status. COPA, the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation. COPA was a nationwide nonprofit corporation, formed in 1975 to evaluate accrediting associations and award recognition to those found worthy. President Reagan was unable to dismantle the Department of Education during his administration, although key people in the department strongly suggested that they should get out of the business of recognizing accrediting agencies, and leave that to the states. "Education President" George Bush apparently did not share this view; at least no significant changes were made during his administration.
One of the frequent complaints levied against the recognized accrediting agencies (and not just by Republicans) is that they have, in general, been slow to acknowledge the major trend toward alternative or nontraditional education.
Some years ago, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education conducted research on the relationship between accreditation and nontraditional approaches. Their report, written by Alexander Mood, confirmed that a serious disadvantage of accreditation is "in the suppression of innovation. Schools cannot get far out of line without risking loss of their accreditation a penalty which they cannot afford." "Also," the report continued, "loss of accreditation implies that the curriculum is somewhat inferior and hence that the degree is inferior. Such a large penalty . . . tends to prevent colleges from striking out in new directions. . . As we look toward the future, it appears likely that accrediting organizations will lose their usefulness and slowly disappear. Colleges will be judged not by what some educational bureaucracy declares but by what they can do for their students. Of much greater relevance would be statistics on student satisfaction, career advancement of graduates, and other such data."
Faced with high-powered criticism of this sort, some accrediting agencies sponsored (with a major grant from the Kellogg Foundation) a large-scale study of how the agencies should deal with nontraditional education.
The four-volume report of the findings of this investigation said very much what the Carnegie report had to say. The accreditors were advised, in effect, not to look at the easy quantitative factors (percentage of Doctorate-holders on the faculty, Books in the library, student-faculty ratio, acres of campus, etc.), but rather to evaluate the far more elusive qualitative factors, of which student satisfaction and student performance are the most crucial.
In other words, if the students at a nontraditional, nonresident university regularly produce research and dissertations that are as good as those produced at traditional schools, or if graduates of nontraditional schools are as likely to gain admission to graduate school or high-level employment and perform satisfactorily there then the nontraditional school may be just as worthy of accreditation as the traditional school.
The response of the accrediting agencies was pretty much to say, "But we already are doing just those things. No changes are needed."
But, with the Carnegie and Kellogg reports, the handwriting was on the wall, if still in small and hard-to-read letters. Things would be changing, however.
In 1987, then Secretary of Education William Bennett (later to become "Drug Czar," and then a bestselling author-philosopher) voiced similar complaints about the failure of accrediting agencies to deal with matters such as student competency and satisfaction. "Historically," he said, "accrediting agencies have examined institutions in terms of the resources they have, such as the number of faculty with earned Doctorates and the number of books in the library. Now [we] are considering the ways agencies take account of student achievement and development."
In 1990, Bennett's successor, Lauro F. Cavazos, while splitting an infinitive or two, said almost exactly the same thing: "Despite increasing evidence that many of our schools are failing to adequately prepare our children, either for further study or for productive careers, the accreditation process still focuses on inputs, such as the number of volumes in libraries or percentage of faculty with appropriate training. It does not examine outcomes how much students learn."
Around the same time, John W. Harris, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Accreditation, echoed these concerns: "It is not enough to know that teachers have certain degrees and that students have spent so much time in the classroom. The question is, can institutions document the achievement of students for the degrees awarded?"
The accrediting agencies continued to assure us that they do deal with such matters.
In 1992, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander went further still, issuing an open invitation for new accrediting agencies to come forward and seek his department's blessing, strongly implying that the existing ones were not doing a satisfactory job. And around the same time, high administrators at at least three major universities seriously questioned whether accreditation was necessary for their school. "Why should we spend upwards of $100,000 in staff time and real money to prepare a self-study for the accreditors?" said one administrator. "It is quite likely that the University of Wisconsin would still be taken seriously even if it did not have accreditation."
In 1992, Secretary Alexander flung down an unrecognizable gauntlet by denying the usual "automatic" reapproval of the powerful Middle States Accrediting Association, because he maintained that their standards for accreditation did not meet the department's. (Middle States had previously denied reaccreditation to a major school because it did not meet certain standards of diversity, including "appropriate" numbers of minority students and faculty. Alexander suggested that Middle States was paying attention to the wrong things. Middle States finally backed down, and made its diversity standards optional.)
When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the accreditation situation was no less murky, and his choice for Secretary of Education, Richard Riley of South Carolina, seemed more interested in primary and secondary education than in postsecondary. Into this already murky area came two bombshells.
Bombshell #1: First, in 1993, the six regional accrediting associations, claiming that "the concept of self-regulation as embodied in regional accreditation is being seriously questioned and potentially threatened," announced that they planned to drop out of the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation, and start their own new group to represent them in Washington. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that "some higher-education observers said they questioned the significance of the action [while] others called it disturbing." The president of the American Council on Education said that "Their pulling out is tantamount to the destruction of COPA."
Bombshell #2: He was right. In April 1993, at their annual meeting in San Francisco, COPA voted itself out of existence as of year-end, by a vote of 14 to two, one abstention. One board member, C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, said that he thought COPA "focused too much on the minutiae of accreditation and not enough on the big issues of improving the quality of undergraduate education."
And so, in April 1993, things were indeed unsettled. The six regional associations were apparently planning to start a new organization to govern themselves, without the participation of the dozens of professional accreditors who were part of COPA. COPA was going about its business, but planning to turn off the lights and shut the door by the end of 1993. And the Clinton Department of Education was busily drawing up proposals that would turn the world of accreditation and school licensing on its ear.
The early thrust of the Clinton/Riley thinking echoed much that had been discussed during the Bush/Bennett/Cavazos/Alexander era: giving increased power to the states to decide what can and cannot be done in the way of higher education within their borders. The big stick wielded by the federal folks, of course, was student aid: loans and grants. The prospect of each state having different standards by which a student could get a Pell Grant, for instance, was daunting.
Around this time, Ralph A. Wolff, an executive with one of the regional accrediting associations, wrote an important 'think piece' for the influential Chronicle of Higher Education: "Restoring the Credibility of Accreditation." (June 9, 1993, page B1) Wolff wrote that, "We have constructed a Potemkin Village in which there is less behind the fa?ade of accreditation than we might like to acknowledge. . . . The accreditation process has not held colleges and universities accountable for issues such as the writing ability of graduates or the effectiveness of general-education requirements. . . If accreditation is to regain some of its lost credibility, everyone involved in the process needs to refocus on standards and criteria for demonstrating educational effectiveness. Even the most prestigious institutions will need to address how much students are learning and the quality of student life at the institution."
Right around the time Wolff was writing, the Department of Education was sending out a limited number of "secret" (not for publication or circulation) drafts of its proposed new regulations. And the six regional accreditors apparently rose up as one to say, in effect, "Hey, wait a minute. You, the feds, are telling us how to run our agencies, and we don't like that."
For instance, the draft regulations would have required accreditors to look at the length of various programs, and their cost vis-a-vis the subject being taught.
A response by James T. Rogers, head of the college division of the Southern Association (a regional accreditor) was typical:
If final regulations follow the pattern in this latest draft, the Department of Education will have co-opted, in very profound ways, members of the private, voluntary accrediting community to serve as enforcement for the department. . . . This is an extremely disturbing abdication of the department's responsibility to police its own operation.
The Chronicle reported (August 4, 1993) that "many of the accrediting groups have sent notices to their member colleges urging them to be prepared to battle the department if the draft is not significantly altered."
And David Longanecker, Assistant Secretary for postsecondary education, was quoted in the Chronicle as saying "Many people in higher education say 'You can't measure what it is that we do, it's too valuable.' I don't buy that, and I don't think most people in America buy that today, either."
The battle lines were drawn or, as the more polite Chronicle put it on August 11, 1993, "Accreditors and the Education Department [are] locked in a philosophical disagreement over the role of accreditation." At this point, the six regional accreditors announced they would be joining with seven higher-education groups to form an organization to represent their interests in Washington. This lobbying group was to be called the National Policy Board on Higher Education Institutional Accreditation, or NPBHEIA. And various subsets of the by-now lame duck COPA were making plans to start as many as three replacement organizations to take over some or most or all of COPA's functions.
During the rest of 1993, the Department of Education was busily rewriting its accreditation guidelines, taking into account the unexpectedly fierce "leave us alone" response from the regional and professional accreditors. Meanwhile, Congress, not wishing to be left out of the mix entirely, passed, on November 23, 1993, the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1993, which, among much, much else, decreed that the Department of Education was to cause each of the 50 states to establish a new State postsecondary review "entity" (SPRE) to evaluate schools within each state, both for compliance with various federal aid programs and, unexpectedly, to evaluate those colleges and universities that have "been subject to a pattern of complaints from students, faculty, or others, including...misleading or inappropriate advertising and promotion of the institution's educational programs...." If that wasn't an invitation for the states to go into the accreditation business, it was certainly in that direction.
Good-bye COPA, Hello CORPA And while this was going on, the COPA-ending clock was ticking away. Ten days before COPA was to disappear forever, the formation of a single new entity to replace it was announced. COPA was to be replaced with (small fanfare, please) CORPA, the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation. All members of COPA were automatically recognized by CORPA. All COPA provisions for recognition of schools were adopted by CORPA, with the understanding that they might be refined and modified over time. And CORPA's initial Committee on Recognition was composed of the members of COPA's Committee on Recognition. All of this appears to be the academic equivalent of saying that The Odyssey was not written by Homer, but by another Greek with the same name. The only apparent difference between COPA and CORPA is the addition of the "R" and the fact that the six regionals were no longer members.
The Department of Education's guidelines were finally published in the Federal Register on January 24, 1994: 24 small-type pages on accreditors, and 20 more on the establishing SPREs, the State Postsecondary Review Entities. Once the regulations were published, the public and the higher education establishment had 45 days in which to respond. And respond they did. The headline in the next week's Chronicle of Higher Education read: "Accreditors Fight Back."
It turned out that the six regional accreditors, the American Council on Education, and other groups had been meeting privately in Arizona to formulate a battle plan. They considered abandoning the regional approach entirely, in favor of a single national accreditor, but scrapped that in favor of four still-quite-radical ideas (among others):
Establishment of minimum uniform national standards for accreditation; Setting of higher standards for schools, focusing on teaching and learning (what a novel concept!); Making public their reports on individual colleges and schools; and Moving toward ceasing to cooperate with the federal government in certifying the eligibility of colleges for federal financial aid. During the 45-day response period following publishing of the draft guidelines, hundreds of long and serious responses were received from college and university presidents opposing some, most, or all of the regulations that had been proposed by the Department of Education.
The issue of diversity and political correctness in accreditation remained just as controversial as before. While the Western Association (a regional accreditor) for instance, believes that academic quality and ethnic diversity are "profoundly connected," many colleges, large and small, apparently agree with Stanford president Gerhard Casper, who said, "No institution should be required to demonstrate its commitment to diversity to the satisfaction of an external review panel. The [Western Association] is attempting to insert itself in an area in which it has no legitimate standing." Other schools, including the University of California at Berkeley, defended the diversity policy.
By early May, 1994, the Department of Education backed away from some of the more controversial rules, both in terms of telling the accreditors what to look for, and in the powers given to the SPREs. They did this by continuing to say what things an accrediting agency must evaluate, but only suggesting, not demanding, the ways and means by which they might do it. In addition, SPREs would now be limited to dealing with matters of fraud and abuse, and could not initiate an inquiry for other reasons.
Under the then-final guidelines, accrediting agencies were required to evaluate these twelve matters, but the way they do it can be individually determined:
Facilities, equipment, and supplies
Fiscal and administrative capacity
Student support services
Program length, tuition, and fees in relation to academic objectives
Program length, tuition, and fees in relation to credit received
Student achievement (job placement, state licensing exams, etc.)
Student loan repayments
Student complaints received by or available to the accreditor
Compliance with student aid rules and regulations
Everything else, including recruiting, admissions practices, calendars, catalogues and other publications, grading practices, advertising and publicity, and so on.
And that is where we had gotten to by 1996. Then, just when it seemed as things were calming down a bit, two more bombshells (shall we call them #3 and #4?) were dropped.
Bombshell #3: Good-bye CORPA, Hello CHEA In late 1996, CORPA announced that it was closing down, in favor of a new organization, CHEA, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, same address, but a new telephone number.
Bombshell #4: Good-bye AACSB, Hello Confusion For years, the main guideline for determining the validity of an accrediting agency has been whether it is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (with additional recognition by COPA, CORPA, or CHEA as an added niceness).
Then the U.S. Department of Education determined that the Higher Education Amendments to the laws required it only to recognize those accreditors who help to enable the schools or programs they accredit to establish eligibility to participate in certain federal aid and other federal programs. As a result of this determination, more than a dozen respectable well regarded, and formerly recognized accrediting agencies lost their Department of Education recognition, including the very prestigious AACSB, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, which accredits Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and suchlike.
Does this mean that the accreditation of those nine agencies is no longer as useful? It is too soon to know, but unlikely, since the various professional fields still support that accreditation. The foresters, the social workers, the veterinarians, and so on, still regard accreditation by their professional associations as valuable and so, clearly, do the hundreds of schools that have or seek this accreditation. Finally, it seems more than likely that these nine agencies will retain their recognition by CHEA.
In any event, after decades of minimal interest and attention, the always fascinating world of accreditation is clearly getting more than its fifteen minutes of fame.

Words That Do Not Mean "Accredited"

Some unaccredited schools use terminology in their catalogs or advertising that might have the effect of misleading unknowledgeable readers. Here are six common phrases:

Pursuing accreditation. A school may state that it is "pursuing accreditation," or that it "intends to pursue accreditation." But that says nothing whatever about its chances for achieving same. It's like saying that you are practicing your tennis game, with the intention of playing in the finals at Wimbledon. Don't hold your breath.

Chartered. In some places, a charter is the necessary document that a school needs to grant degrees. A common ploy by diploma mill operators is to form a corporation, and state in the articles of incorporation that one of the purposes of the corporation is to grant degrees. This is like forming a corporation whose charter says that it has the right to appoint the Pope. You can say it, but that doesn't make it so.

Licensed or registered. This usually refers to nothing more than a business license, granted by the city or county in which the school is located, but which has nothing to do with the legality of the school, or the usefulness of its degrees.

Recognized. This can have many possible meanings, ranging from some level of genuine official recognition at the state level, to having been listed in some directory often unrelated to education, perhaps published by the school itself. Two ambitious degree mills (Columbia State University and American International University) have published entire books that look at first glance like this one, solely for the purpose of being able to devote lengthy sections in them to describing their phony schools as "the best in America."

Authorized. In California, this has had a specific meaning (see chapter 7). Elsewhere, the term can be used to mean almost anything the school wants it to sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. A Canadian degree mill once claimed to be "authorized to grant degrees." It turned out that the owner had authorized his wife to go ahead and print the diplomas.

Approved. In California, this has a specific meaning (see chapter 7). In other locations, it is important to know who is doing the approving. Some not-for-profit schools call themselves "approved by the U.S. Government," which means only that the Internal Revenue Service has approved their nonprofit status for income taxes and nothing more. At one time, some British schools called themselves "Government Approved," when the approval related only to the school-lunch program.
The Second-to-Last Word on Accreditation

There have been quite an extraordinary number of new accrediting associations started in the last few years, and they are getting harder and harder to check out, either because they seem to exist only on the Internet, or because they exist in so many places: an address in Hawaii, another in Switzerland, a third in Germany, a fourth in Hong Kong, and so on. Some new ones have adopted the clever idea of bestowing their accreditation on some major universities, quite possibly unbeknownst to those schools. Then they can say truthfully, but misleadingly, that they accredit such well-known schools. This is the accreditation equivalent of those degree mills that send their diplomas to some famous people, and then list those people as graduates.
The Last Word on Accreditation

Don't believe everything anyone says. It seems extraordinary that any school would lie about something so easily checked as accreditation, but it is done. Degree mills have unabashedly claimed accreditation by a recognized agency. Such claims are totally untrue. They are counting on the fact that many people won't check up on these claims.

Salespeople trying to recruit students sometimes make accreditation claims that are patently false. Quite a few schools ballyhoo their "fully accredited" status but never mention that the accrediting agency is unrecognized, and so the accreditation is of little or (in most cases) no value.

One accrediting agency (the unrecognized International Accrediting Commission for Schools, Colleges and Theological Seminaries) boasted that two copies of every accreditation report they issue are "deposited in the Library of Congress." That sounds impressive, until you learn that for $20, anyone can copyright anything and be able to make the identical claim.

Source: Bears Guide to Distance Learning

Accredidation frequently asked question
College Accreditation FAQS

There are hundreds of colleges and universities in the world that do not have recognized accreditation. They range from totally fraudulent degree mills run by ex-convicts who sell worthless degrees to anyone willing to pay, to major new academic endeavors, well-funded and run by experienced educators of good reputation, and extremely likely to become properly accredited before too long.
In almost every instance, the unaccredited schools cost less, and offer a faster path to a degree, often with more flexibility. It is a tempting consideration, and a common dilemma for many people in search of a school. As a result, it is probably the most common question we get: should I pursue an unaccredited degree? Since we cannot know each questioner's situation and needs, we typically reply by saying, "If you are absolutely confident that an unaccredited degree will meet your current and your predictable future needs, then it might well be appropriate to pursue such a degree."
Note: For the purpose of the following discussion, we include schools with accreditation claimed from an unrecognized accreditor as equivalent to unaccredited, for that is how such schools are almost certain to be treated by evaluators and decision makers.
Should I get an accredited or an unaccredited degree?
The simplest answer is that you can rarely go wrong with a properly accredited degree. We do hear from a moderate number of people who have made good use of an unaccredited (but totally legitimate) degree, but we hear from many more who have had significant problems with such degrees, in terms of acceptance by employers, admission to other schools, or simply bad publicity.
Will an unaccredited degree be accepted as legitimate?
Acceptance is very low in the academic world and the government world, somewhat higher in the business world. One large and decent unaccredited school, in operation for a quarter century, can only point to a dozen instances in which their degrees were accepted by other schools, most of those on a case by case basis. Some companies have no clear policy with regard to accreditation, and indeed may not even understand the concept, as was the case with the head of human resources for one of the ten largest companies on the planet, who got a copy of this book and then told us of her astonishment at learning that there were unaccredited schools and fake accrediting agencies.
Can anyone benefit from an unaccredited degree?
The unaccredited option may work for people who really don't need a degree, but rather want one, either for self satisfaction ("validating my life's work" is a phrase we hear often), or to give themselves a marketing edge. One large subset of satisfied unaccredited degree-users, for instance, are therapists, who typically need only a Master's degree for their state license. But they feel that if they have a Ph.D., and use that title in their advertising, they will have an edge over competitors without the doctorate. The same is the case with owners or executives of small businesses. A real estate agent with an MBA or a business planner with a doctorate in finance, may get more clients because of the higher degree, and indeed may have additional useful knowledge.
What problems can arise?
We get a lot of mail from people who were having major problems with a previously satisfactory unaccredited degree. This situation occurs after one of two events. One is a change in employer policy. A company that may have accepted or tolerated or unwittingly gone along with unaccredited degrees may have a change, either due to new personnel policies or new ownership, and previously acceptable degrees no longer are. Similarly, when an employee seeks work at a new company, he or she may learn that the degree held is no longer useful. The other is when there is bad publicity, and the light of public scrutiny is focused on the school or the degrees. In recent years, the media have devoted more and more attention to these matters. 60 Minutes, American Journal, Inside Edition, Extra, and dozens of local television consumer reporters have addressed the matter of bad schools and degrees. When American Journal devoted a long segment to a popular unaccredited school, and when a large daily newspaper gave an 8-column page with one headline to the state's lawsuit against another large and popular unaccredited school, many students and alumni of those schools had some highly uncomfortable moments.
Does the level of the degree make a difference?
We think it does. We can find very few reasons why it would ever make sense to pursue an unaccredited Associate's or Bachelor's degree. There are two reasons for this. One is that there are so very many distance Bachelor's programs with recognized accreditation, and those degrees can actually be faster and less expensive than some of the unaccredited ones. The other is that a person with at least one accredited degree, as the foundation, is seen to be someone clearly capable of doing university level work, and if they chose to pursue an unaccredited Master's or Doctorate, after earning the accredited Bachelor's, they must have had a good reason. Alternatively, a person with only an unaccredited degree, or series of degrees, will often be under a cloud of suspicion, especially in a world where it is possible to get a not-illegal Bachelor's degree in three months or less.
Will degrees with recognized accreditation always be accepted?
Most annoyingly, no. In the sometimes-snobbish world of higher education, schools without regional accreditation are sometimes seen to be inferior. As one simple but telling example, Regents College, one of the largest and best-respected distance learning schools in the US, itself with regional accreditation, will not accept degrees or credits from schools accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, a recognized accreditor. Quite a few regionally accredited schools will accept DETC accreditation, in our experience, but by no means all. This depressing fact is just one more reason to 'shop around' to be sure any given degree will meet your needs.
Another factor in acceptance is regional accreditation versus professional accreditation. In some fields, such as psychology, architecture, and engineering, accreditation from the relevant professional association can be especially important. For example, there are job descriptions for therapists that require degrees accredited by the American Psychological Association, a professional accreditor, which accredits fewer than half the psychology programs in America.
What happens if my school becomes accredited after I earn my degree?
Theoretically one only has an accredited degree if it was earned after accreditation. For many practical purposes, however, it is unlikely that an employer will say, for instance, "Did you earn your degree from the Graduate School of America before or after November 17, 1997?" Once a school has been accredited, it is likely (but not certain) that all its degrees will be regarded as accredited, whenever earned. Some schools offer the option of going back and doing a modest amount of additional work, and earning a "replacement" degree after the accreditation is gained.
What happens if the accreditor is recognized after I earn my degree?
In this scenario, the student earns a degree from a school that is accredited by an unrecognized agency, and later the agency is recognized by the Department of Education. This is such a rare situation, we really don't know if there is a precedent. Common sense suggests that if the school or degree was accredited all along, and if the only change is that the accreditor becomes recognized, then the student would have a degree with recognized accreditation. But common sense does not always prevail in the world of higher education.
Is unrecognized accreditation worse than none at all?
In many cases, we think so, because it adds one more layer of possible irregularity to attract the attention of investigators, regulators, decision-makers, and others. When, for instance, a national magazine did an extremely unflattering article on the unrecognized World Association of Universities and Colleges (Spy, February 1995), the caustic comments and the various revelations led readers to think less favorably of the schools this association had accredited. On the other hand, some of the larger distance learning schools make no accreditation claims whatsoever (California Coast, California Pacific, Fairfax, Southwest, Greenwich, etc.), and still manage to attract students.
It is common for unrecognized accrediting agencies to talk or write about their intention to become recognized by the Department of Education. In our opinion, however, of the more-than-thirty active unrecognized accreditors listed under Non-GAAP Agencies, only one has even a remote chance of recognition, and that one, the National Association, has been turned down many times over the past twenty years. Some of these accreditors suggest that it is their choice not to be recognized, by writing things like, "This association has not sought recognition . . ." or " . . . does not choose to be listed by the Department of Education." And we have chosen not to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. accreditation FAQs

Online Distance Learning frequently asked question
Accredited Degrees FAQ

How do I find out about a school I've heard about and might be interested in? Of all the books published on distance-learning schools, only the one we produce, Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees Nontraditionally, describes all the schools: the accredited, the unaccredited, and the fake ones (in separate sections, of course). There are many ways to research schools on the Internet, but you cannot always be sure that you are getting honest, impartial information or biased information from people who are associated with less-than-wonderful schools, or from the web sites of such schools themselves.
If a school says that it's accredited, does that mean it's a good, legitimate place? Not necessarily. Under GAAP, Generally Accepted Accreditation Principles, a school is considered accredited (by the worlds of academia, business, and government) only if the accreditation comes from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation in Washington, or if the school is listed in the International Handbook of Universities (a UNESCO publication), the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook, the World Education Series (published by AACRAO, the association of registrars) or the Country Series (published by the Australian National Office on Overseas Skills Recognition). There are more than 50 unrecognized accrediting agencies, and accreditation by certain tiny nations does not meet the criteria of GAAP either.
How do people out in the world really feel about degrees earned by distance learning these days? In a word, great, as long as the school is accredited under GAAP. In one major study (by Sosdian & Sharp), 100% of HR and personnel officers at major companies said they not only would accept such degrees, many actually preferred them, since it showed that the person was capable of independent study and self-directed work. Degrees from schools not accredited under GAAP can be of benefit to those who want the degree for self esteem or satisfaction, and for those working for companies willing to accept such degrees. Problems may arise if company policies change, or when one re-enters the job market.
I know I could do the work if they'd give me the job, but they say they'll only consider people with degrees. Is it really stupid to consider getting a fast and easy degree just to get in the door? In a word, yes. We hear from so many people who get into really big trouble by acquiring a fast and easy degree. We also hear success stories from people who, in such situations, tell their employer or potential employer, "I am enrolling in the following regionally accredited program. With credit for my prior learning, and by taking equivalency examinations, I anticipate earning the degree on [date]. On that basis, I hope you will consider accepting me provisionally, and I'll keep you up to date on my progress toward the degree."
I'm afraid I won't stay motivated for the long haul if I sign on for a totally distance learning degree. Is there any help for people like me? There are many different academic models offered by distance learning schools. Some are highly interactive (either by phone, mail, e-mail, or even local cohort groups); others are very non-interactive. Some are highly structured; some are quite free-form. Some expect you to be on-line several hours a week; others expect to hear from you once or twice a year to take exams. Some have regularly accessible on-line or telephone mentors or faculty. For many people, a "hybrid" program, combining a great deal of distance learning with some in-person work (one evening a week, one Saturday a month, several weeks on campus during the summer, etc.) makes the most sense. It is important to choose a program that meets your needs, and to realize that there is nothing wrong with abandoning something that doesn't feel right for you.
How can there be such a tremendous range in the cost of a basic undergrad degree? Does the price have any relationship to anything real? Surprisingly little, since some schools depend largely on tuition for support, while others are state-funded or rely on donations and foundations. In our area, for instance, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University are both wonderful schools, yet one costs five times as much as the other.

Among the schools accredited under GAAP, semester units can cost less than $10 each (in the case of the 30 units awarded by Regents for a single GRE subject exam) to more than $300 each. You should shop around for a course or a school as carefully as you would shop for a car.

Are there scholarships for people who do degrees in non-traditional ways? Yes, but not nearly as many as for traditional students. Many schools argue that since you do not need to leave your job or to travel or live on campus, there is less need for subsidizing your education. The best place to start is with the financial aid office of the school itself, which will know what may be available there. Be very cautious of the so-called "scholarship finding" services.

If I really do the degree, I want to graduate. I want the cap and gown and the boring speeches in addition to the piece of paper. Any hope? (And: will the diploma show that I did it by distance learning?) Oh, my, yes. John spoke on commencement day in 1998 at one of the largest of the nonresident schools, and there were hundreds and hundreds of graduates there, in caps and gowns, most of them seeing their alma mater for the first and only time. And many distance programs are just a small part of the life of a major university (such as the University of Iowa or California State University), and all graduates are welcome at the ceremony. The diploma never mentions how the degree was earned.
Can you do any degree at a distance? Okay, maybe not medicine or dentistry, but can you get a doctorate without residency? At this time, there is a wide range of Master's degrees that can be done without ever setting foot on the campus (from the one in electrical engineering at Stanford to the one in management at Thomas Edison State), but no school accredited under GAAP offers a totally nonresident doctorate. There are, however, a number of them that can be done with only one to four weeks on campus: Fielding, Union, Nova Southeastern, Walden, Graduate School of America, Sarasota, and a few others. A few unaccredited but state-approved schools have nonresident doctorates, and there are some interesting, if hard to "get a handle on" research doctorate options from the U.K., Australia, and South Africa.

If I do a distance learning undergrad degree, does this put me lower down on some list if I want to apply to graduate school? How about if I want to go from a nontraditional master's into a regular doctorate? There is no simple answer here. In fact, it can get very complicated, because the issue of regional accreditation versus national accreditation arises. Most schools will accept (or at least consider) credits and degrees from regionally-accredited schools. But a fair number of schools do not accept the credits or degrees from schools accredited by such national accreditors as the Distance Education and Training Council. Most non-U.S. schools with accreditation under GAAP will be acceptable. But at the graduate level, most admissions decisions are made not by the admissions department, but by the department or college within the school, and policies may vary even within the same school.

The only safe answer is the one that really applies to almost any question you can ask about any school: before you spend even one penny (or shilling or frank or Euro) on any school, do as much research and due diligence as you can, to be really, really sure that the school is legitimate, and that the degree will meet your current and your predictable future needs.
Note that in some countries, the word accredited is not used, although that country's evaluation process (e.g., the British Royal Charter) is accepted as "accredited" under GAAP. Note too that accreditors that do not meet the standards of GAAP are not necessarily bad, illegal, or fake. They simply would not be generally accepted as recognized accreditors, this does not necessarily detract from the level, standards, or quality of education you will receive.

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