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US Institutional Accreditation System

by Patrick Douglas Crispen http://www.netsquirrel.com/

How can you make sure the college or university in which you are about to enroll is truly legitimate and not just another diploma mill? Or, if you are an employer, how can you ferret out applicants who bought their degrees instead of earned them? One way is to check the college's or university's accreditation--a certification by an independent, outside entity that the school meets certain acceptable standards in its education programs, services, and facilities--but there's nothing stopping diploma mills from lying about their accreditation or, even more insidiously, creating their own 'diploma mill accreditation agencies' whose standards may not be all that strict.

While the United States government does *not* monitor the quality of US colleges or universities--that job is left to six [or at least I think it's six] regional accreditation agencies and a mess of single mission, specialized, and professional accreditation agencies--the government does offer a free, online database of approximately 6,900 postsecondary educational institutions and programs, each of which is accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a "reliable authority as to the quality of postsecondary education" within the meaning of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended...

You can find the database at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.asp

There are a bunch of different search boxes on this page--so many, in fact, that the page can be downright intimidating. Fortunately, you don't have to fill in all of the boxes. In fact, I just did a search by only typing "University of Alabama" in the Name of institution box and was relieved to discover that my BA is legit. Bama is accredited by SACS, so my thirteen years of undergraduate school were not wasted. A similar search for Pepperdine University shows that my MA is also well worth the paper on which its printed. Yay!

Unfortunately, Name of Institution searches are kind of hit or miss. A search for "UCLA" doesn't list the Westwood campus, and a search for "University of California Los Angeles" turns up NOTHING. Eeek! Does that mean that UCLA is a diploma mill? Hardly. In the government's database, UCLA is listed as "University of California-Los Angeles." Notice the dash? Leave out that dash and the database gets totally confused.

So a better search may be to leave the Name of institution box blank and instead search by the school's state and city. [You may need to hit the shift key on your keyboard and the refresh button in your web browser to clear the database's search form and start from scratch.] That's how I eventually found UCLA, which is indeed accredited [despite what the folks at cross-town rival USC might tell you.]

If a school is in the government's database, it's a safe bet that the school is legitimate [or at least accredited by an recognized, reputable accrediting agency.] However, if a school is not on the list, further investigation on your part is in order.





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