Know your school is legit
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation refers to the broad acceptance and legitimacy of a degree offered by a university or college (online or on campus). Most schools offer legitimate degrees and thus, are accredited by an official accrediting body. Accreditation is also intended to regulate funding availability - students cannot receive federal or state funding from a non-accredited university.
Accreditation of Online Schools
There are many online universities that claim to be accredited but really aren't, while on the other hand there are universities that aren't officially accredited but are still recognized as legitimate institutions. It's vital that prospective online students understand how to tell if a school is legitimately accredited in their area, because degrees from unaccredited schools are usually worthless.
Degree mills are online "schools" that claim to be accredited, but the accreditation isn't from a body recognized by the CHEA (The Council for Higher Education Accreditation) or the US Department of Education (USDE) - two official, non-profit organizations who provide information on valid accrediting bodies that can authorize accreditation. Degree mills sell phony degrees to students without requiring them to learn anything.
Many of the so-called accrediting agencies that oversee degree mills are entirely bogus, created by the phony universities themselves. None of them are recognized by the USDE or the CHEA.
The CHEA publishes a list of the valid accrediting bodies in the U.S. It can be found at: http://www.chea.org/pdf/CHEA_USDE_AllAccred.pdf (PDF). As you can see, the accrediting bodies that represent degree mills, such as the WOEAC and the BOUA, are nowhere to be found.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are three basic questions that come up over and over regarding accreditation:
1. Can you get an accredited degree online?
Yes. There are many institutions online that offer perfectly legitimate and accredited degrees that are recognized around the world.
2. Are all universities (online and otherwise) who say they are accredited really accredited?
No. Some universities basically offer degrees for sale. If you want a legitimate degree, you'll have to earn it - watch out for online degree scams that highlight "Life Experience Degrees" that require no additional course requirements.
3. Are all good universities accredited?
Contrary to what you might think, the answer is no, which can become confusing. There are a few examples of online universities that are considered legitimate in some quarters, but are not accredited.
One example of a quality school that isn't accredited is ITT. ITT has satellites in many states, and not all of its individual "institutes" are state-accredited. In spite of this fact, many graduates do have successful and rewarding careers.
Why would an otherwise credible school not be accredited? The reason could be that the core faculty doesn't have the necessary educational credentials, or perhaps the school doesn't have a racially or ethnically diverse student body.