The U.S. Department of Education Office of Post-Secondary Education, or OPE, publishes a list of accreditation agencies that assess U.S. colleges and universities, along with a list of accredited institutions. While there are thousands of accredited colleges throughout the United States, there are an unknown number of non-accredited schools. States such as Maine, which names over 500 schools, keep an ongoing list of unaccredited colleges serving American students, but the number of schools frequently fluctuates.
The federal government generally does not provide loans, grants or other forms of financial assistance to students attending a non-accredited college or university. Private loans may be available, but the interest rates may be higher. Repayment terms vary, and are generally not as lenient as government loans. According to the IRS, students can only deduct their loan interest if the loan was used at a school that participates in the U.S. student aid program. This is limited to schools with approved accreditation.
If a student begins his education at a non-accredited junior college or vocational school, he will have a hard time transferring his credits to an accredited institution or four-year university. Graduating with a degree from a non-accredited school may hamper a student’s ability to further his education in a graduate or post-graduate program at an accredited school. Some students with degrees from non-accredited schools find that they have to start over on their classes in order to pursue their goals.
Often, employers will not acknowledge degrees from unaccredited schools. For instance, graduates from non-accredited law schools, nursing programs and teacher colleges may not be permitted to sit for exams to earn certification in order to pursue their careers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in some states it is illegal to use a degree that is not accredited by an approved crediting agency, so students need to understand their state guidelines when they consider a non-accredited college.
Quality of Education
The quality of education may be lacking at non-accredited institutions, and some will not provide an education at all. These types of schools, known by the government as diploma mills, essentially sell degrees or promise graduation in a very short amount of time or with little coursework, or none at all. Any school that is essentially asking you to pay for a degree or license, or is charging by degree, rather than by credit, is a possible diploma mill. Schools that give unrealistic credit for life experience -- over half of your coursework -- have similar names to well-known universities, or provide little to no interaction with instructors should be viewed with suspicion.