Colleges are accredited after meeting certain minimal educational standards, though most exceed these. Graduate schools and employers generally prefer degrees from regionally accredited colleges. Accreditation does not indicate an endorsement by the oversight board or the Department of Education.
Six regional associations offer accreditation to colleges in their districts. Programmatic or specialized boards such as the American Bar Association also provide regional accreditation. National accreditation covers schools offering degrees in specific fields regardless of location.
Regional accreditation is provided to nonprofit colleges offering graduate, bachelor's, or associate's degrees. National accreditation goes to for-profit or proprietary schools granting online, correspondence, trade and technical degrees.
Both nationally and regionally accredited colleges are judged in the same ten categories, including administrative approach, financial stability and academic accomplishment. The six regional boards accept each others' decisions, while national organizations may not accept those of their competitors.
Colleges undergo a 4-to-8-year process for regional accreditation that includes reviews every 5 to 10 years or when the school changes its curriculum. National accreditation takes anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Credits and degrees can be transferred between regionally accredited schools but those from nationally accredited institutions are not accepted. Nationally accredited schools almost universally accept transcripts from regionally accredited colleges.