Regional Accreditation vs National Accreditation
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Regional Accreditation versus National Accreditation

Regional Accreditation versus National Accreditation

November 30, 1999



Regional Accreditation

Not surprisingly, all the schools I talked to (all of whom are regionally accredited) accept credits and degrees from other regionally accredited schools. Regional accreditation is both the minimum and maximum standard in most cases. While they generally don't make distinctions between the quality of one regionally accredited school over another, some schools place qualifications and limits on the kinds and amounts of course credit they will accept.

Transferring College Credits

Some schools put a limit on how old credits may be. Excelsior, for example, requires credits transferred into its business programs to be less than 20 years old. Walden University requires credits transferred into their graduate programs to be less than 6 years old. But this isn't always the case. "Unlike Excelsior, we transfer credits no matter how old they are," said Graham Irwin of The Union Institute. This can be an important consideration for the returning student who has been out of school for a long period of time.

National Accreditation

Twenty-five years ago, the six regional accreditors were the only agencies that accredited degree-granting institutions. Since then, other recognized accrediting agencies, often specializing in specific fields or certain kinds of education, have gotten into the business. Not having a regional focus, they are known as "national accreditors." (The fact that "national" denotes a level below "regional" is another confusing and counter-intuitive aspect of accreditation.) Relevant to our discussion is the Distance Education and Training Council, or DETC.

Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)

The Distance Education and Training Council, or DETC, began in the 1950s as the National Home Study Council. Its original purpose was to establish industry standards for correspondence schools offering primarily trade and vocational courses. As time went by, some of its members began offering specialized associate's degrees. By 1980, the agency accredited two bachelor's-granting programs. Today, DETC accredits dozens of schools that grant degrees, including a few offering professional doctorates.

Because DETC is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, it satisfies the conditions of GAAP. Despite this, DETC accreditation has always been controversial and has never gained the wide acceptance of regional accreditation. Still, when I asked seven schools if they accept DETC-accredited degrees or credits, I was surprised that the response was so uncontroversial: almost unanimously, they do not.

For six of them -- The Union Institute, Walden University, and the "big three" (Excelsior, Thomas Edison, and Charter Oak) -- dismissal of DETC accreditation is unqualified. Only Capella University indicated it would accept DETC credits or degrees on a case-by-case basis. However, several schools indicated they would accept courses from DETC-accredited schools that had been separately evaluated for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE) (ACE evaluates non-collegiate courses offered by schools, private industry, the military, and others). In that case, they would accept the ACE recommendations for awarding credits for these courses. Some DETC-accredited schools have submitted some of their courses for ACE evaluation, but not all schools have done so, and even schools that have may not have submitted all their courses for evaluation. It would be wise to check.

Why is DETC Accreditation dismissed?

Why the dismissal of DETC accreditation? One can only speculate, but a likely reason is that DETC-accredited--and other nationally accredited schools--are outside the "club" (The regional associations were created and are made up of their member institutions).   Another reason might be the legacy of the DETC: accrediting trade school correspondence courses.

Another reason might be that DETC-accredited schools -- taken as a whole -- are simply not comparable to regionally accredited schools. It is interesting to note that no DETC-accredited school has ever gone on to regional accreditation in the more than two decades DETC has been accrediting schools awarding bachelor's and higher degrees.

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