The United States government does not accredit schools; instead, this function is turned over to peer review commissions that define minimum educational standards and then ensure that schools voluntarily seeking accreditation meet or exceed these standards. Brick-and-mortar colleges are frequently regionally accredited. Recognized accreditation bodies include the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Schools who fail an overall accreditation -- or those combining vastly different job training programs -- may opt for individual program accreditation. These types of accreditation are handled by boards governing the professional training of future workers in the field, rather than by the nationally recognized accreditation commissions. For example, a school offering medical assistance training programs in a variety of disciplines may seek accreditation from the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education for its holistic practitioner assistant program, while at the same time seeking accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association for recognition of its veterinary technician program.
The rise in online education venues has given rise to schools seeking recognition from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which accredits distance education institutions. The organization publishes a list of currently accredited distance learning programs, which assists students seeking a bona fide educational experience by protecting them from spending their money at a diploma mill. Unless an online college is accredited by the DETC, any credits earned do not transfer to brick-and-mortar colleges or even other accredited online colleges.
Accreditation is entirely voluntary, and each school's governing body must decide whether to pursue accreditation and from which organizations. The first step on the path to accreditation is the request for the accrediting agency's written standards. The school's governing body reviews these standards, recommends changes to the school's organizational structure or curriculum and empowers the head of the school to initiate all improvements needed to bring the school in compliance with the accreditation standards. Once all appears to be in order, the school will undergo a self-evaluation to ensure that no criteria have been missed.
Once the school is in compliance with all of the rules and regulations the accrediting body sets forth, it invites members of the accreditation committee to visit the school. The committee will spot-check record-keeping, curricula and training facilities. Committee members will also observe teaching in progress and interview school commission members.
Assuming that the school meets all of the precepts set forth in the accrediting commission's documents, it will be temporarily accredited. An accreditation must be renewed at set intervals, such as every five to 10 years. Since accreditation standards constantly change, the renewal process requires the school to be up-to-date with all the required changes. It is entirely possible for a school to lose accreditation if it fails to meet all of the accreditation criteria at a later date.
Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.