The six Department of Education and CHEA-approved regional agencies are:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
There are also a number of specialized accredited agencies which are approved by both the Department of Education and CHEA. Some schools have both regional and specialized accreditation. If you select a school that only has specialized accreditation, be aware that your efforts may not be as accepted within academe. For better or worse, there are various levels of respect associated with the different accrediting agencies and the regional agencies are considered the standard. However, four relevant specialized agencies are:
- Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE)
- Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS)
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)
The Institution Accreditation database sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education lists all recognized accreditation agencies as well as institutions accredited by a recognized agency.
This is slightly more tricky than it may first appear. The simple answer is that regional accreditation is the most preferred form of accreditation -- it is the most recognized and accepted type of accreditation and would be considered the gold standard for accreditation. In fact, many colleges and universities only recognize regional accreditation when considering transfer credits and admissions.
In lieu of (or sometimes in addition to) regional accreditation, an organization might seek accreditation from one of the aforementioned national agencies. In that case, I would offer the following subjective ranking of accreditation status presuming that the institution only has one type of accreditation:
- Regional Accreditation (Undergraduate or Graduate)
- ABHE (Undergraduate) or ATS (Graduate)
- DETC (Undergraduate or Graduate)
- TRACS (Undergraduate or Graduate)
Institutions sometimes seek accreditation from more than one agency, particularly if they cater to a certain niche. For example, most seminaries are both regionally and ATS accredited, and some ministry organizations are more interested in an ATS accredited seminary rather than merely a regionally accredited one. Similarly, when seeking out professional degrees in fields like law and psychology, it's important to look for professional accreditation (in this case, the American Bar Association and American Psychological Association respectively) in addition to regional accreditation.
- What About International Accreditation?
- Is It Really Necessary to Attend an Accredited School?
- Name a Situation Where Accreditation Is Not Critical
- Are All Unaccredited Schools Bad?
- What About Other Accrediting Agencies?
- What About Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Membership?
- If an Institution is Regionally Accredited, Does That Apply to the Online Degrees?
- How Can I Tell if a School is Accredited?
- Is Accreditation Important for K12 Schools?
- What is Validation?