Why Are Accredited Health Care Schools a Smart Choice?
Find out about health care school accreditation, and avoid costly mistakes in your choice of schools.
Advantages of Accreditation
By Sindya N. Bahnoo
One of the first questions you should ask when considering a health care program is "Is it accredited?" Knowing the accreditation status of a college or university will help you assess what the college community thinks of the school, as well as an individual program.
Accrediting boards can be regional or national, and can accredit institutions or specific departments or schools within an institution.
It can get a little confusing so here's a primer to help you navigate the accreditation terrain.
Understanding School Accreditation
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is used as an evaluation tool. Independent bodies assess the strengths and weaknesses of schools and degree program to ensure that standards of quality are being met. Consider it to be a system of checks and balances.
Who are the accreditation agencies?
Accrediting agencies are neutral, third-parties with specific criteria that must be met by each school, such as the number of professors, quality of instruction, and depth and breadth of courses offered. Often, those on accreditation committees are made up of peers from other schools. Who better to judge Harvard Medical School than Stanford's doctors?
The process of accreditation is a rubber stamp of sorts, a marker that says others working in the field believe that the program is worthwhile. Accreditation agencies are private—not government run. Schools voluntarily put themselves through the process of accreditation in order to gain insight into the quality of their own programs. It is a way of getting advice and suggestions.
What Does Accreditation Do for You?
For the university, accreditation serves to instill public confidence in the institution and assure quality curricula. For the student, accreditation serves several important purposes:
- Financial Aid: A degree from an accredited university or program allows you access to state and federal financial aid. The government will only provide financial aid to students enrolled in schools accredited by accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Transfer of Credits: Degrees from accredited health care schools and programs are recognized by other accredited institutions. In other words, if you want to transfer to another school or earn a higher-level degree, only your credits from accredited schools will be recognized.
- Licensing: Many health care careers, such as nursing, physical therapy or massage require licensure in order to work in a particular state. In many states, you cannot sit for their licensing or certification exams unless you have graduated from an accredited program recognized by that state.
- Job Market: Getting your degree from an accredited institution will improve your value on the job market. The respect that your degree commands will hinge upon this. It isn't enough to just find out that the school and program that you are interested in are accredited. You should also find out how long they have been accredited and how recently they were evaluated.
University vs. Department vs. Program Accreditations
Accrediting bodies might accredit a university, a department within the university, or a specific program within a department. Look for accreditation at all of these levels. Let's use George Washington University (GWU) as an example:
- University Level: If you want financial aid or the ability to transfer credits, then a regional accreditation at the university level is the minimum you should look for. GWU is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
- Department Level: Specialties within a career or profession may have additional accrediting bodies. GWU's Department of Psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association.
- Program Level: Some career fields, such as public health, are accredited by career organizations or associations. GWU's School of Public Health and Health Services is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.
Where to Go From Here
Now that you know the basics, you can do a little digging of your own to find the information you need. Once you have the degree itself picked out, find out exactly what accrediting agency is relevant to that degree. Check your state's local government site for licensing requirements, then the DOE site. The DOE provides a searchable online database of accrediting agencies. You can search the database to find out exactly what schools and programs are accredited.
- Good News: The DOE is proposing regulatory changes that would force accrediting agencies to be more stringent. As a result, the public may have access to information that accrediting bodies collect on schools and programs. This is good news. More transparency is what you want.
- Other News: Worker's unions, such as nurses unions, are developing and imposing their own standards of accreditation. The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) is currently the established and respected accrediting body for health care schools. However, some states now require a degree from one of the unions' accredited choices, making it more difficult to become a nurse in certain states.