The word “accreditation” is often mentioned in the world of online or private schools. But what IS school accreditation? And above all else why does it matter?

In layman’s terms, it is the recognition that a school has a certain level of standards. However, in order for that recognition to mean something it must come from a specific agency. Legitimate accreditation comes from an accrediting agency, determined by the U.S. Department of Education, which maintains a database of agencies it recognizes. There are two types of accreditations: institutional and specialized/programmatic.

School Accreditation Types

For clarity’s sake, let’s touch on the two basic types of accreditation. First, there is institutional accreditation. It normally applies to an entire institution and informs that each entity of a school contributes to the success of the school’s objectives. However, this does not have to mean that all parts of the school have the same quality level of education. A more specific example of this would be a brick n’ mortar public school.

Next, there is a specialized/programmatic accreditation. This normally applies to the evaluation of specified programs, departments or small entities within a larger institution. So a unit receiving a specialized accreditation could be as big as a college within a university system, or as small as a curriculum within a specified program of study. However, vocational schools that are not a part of a larger system can also receive specialized accreditation that applies to the entire school.

Lastly, what is an accrediting agency? Accrediting agencies issue all the accreditations mentioned above. They are organizations made up of educational professionals who create the operating standards for educational/professional institutions and programs. And hence, determine if a school meets those standards. Moreover, they publically announce their findings through the issuance of accreditations.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information as noted by the U.S. Department of Education states that they determine accreditation standards based on whether graduates can gain admission to other reputable institutions or achieve credentials for professional practice.