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Why Accreditation Matters for Your Online College Experience

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. What does that mean to students and graduates?

Read on to better understand accreditation and learn how it affects your education, degree and employability.

Accreditation defined

Accreditation explains the official recognition of a college or university for meeting high scholastic and administrative excellence. Validation of college accreditation signifies the school’s excellence in education and verifies the credibility of degrees held by graduates.

A goal of accreditation is to “create a culture of continuous improvement of academic quality at colleges and universities and stimulate a general raising of standards among educational institutions.”

– U.S. Department of Education

Accreditation also ensures student support systems are in place, including libraries; publication and research access; availability of support infrastructures, such as financial aid, Title IX or compliance offices; records; and registration. 

How universities earn accreditation

Accreditation is voluntary; colleges opt to have their campuses, curriculum, faculty and organizational goals routinely examined to confirm they are offering the highest-quality facilities and education to students. Accreditation agencies work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to validate accreditors and post-secondary schools alike are federally compliant.

To receive accreditation, colleges are evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Quality of education
  • Reputation of faculty
  • Services available to students
  • Collegiate mission
  • Strategic plan or university goals
  • Admissions requirements

Accreditation peer review boards are comprised of esteemed and diverse professors and administrators from across many institutions who volunteer to share their unique expertise and experiences along with their commitment to higher education. The process of accreditation is ongoing, including annual reporting, campus visits and follow-up monitoring of growth and improvement opportunities.  

How accreditation affects students and graduates

In order to receive Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA), a post-secondary school must be accredited by one or more authorization agency. The academic rigor at accredited schools not only meets current standards, but also strives to progress and develop as knowledge and research evolve. Accreditation is also important to consider, as many universities will not transfer credits from non-accredited schools. 

Employers appreciate that students who have attended an accredited institution have met academic challenges that prepare them for a career and taught them other respected skills, including critical thinking, communication and professionalism.

Sources: Federal Student Aid, Higher Learning Commission, U.S. Department of Education

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