In the country of origin of accreditations in the education sector, the USA, a regional accreditation for a university is an important seal of quality. The American higher education landscape is known for its variety of educational institutions. Universities with a regional accreditation can prove that their institution meets certain performance standards.
In addition to belonging to a well-known university association such as the Ivy League or university rankings, regional accreditation can provide an indication of the choice of the university of your choice. Regional accreditation is usually one of the prerequisites for obtaining national accreditation.
Purpose of accreditations in higher education
Regional accreditation dates back to 1885. Then as now, accreditation in the USA is voluntary, so there are also universities without accreditations. In the USA, each of the 50 states is independently responsible for its university affairs. Licensing is regulated individually at the universities and there are no transnational regulations.
For this reason, no general statement about the quality standards at a university can be made on the basis of a federal license alone. An official regional accreditation, on the other hand, attests that the performance standards set by the accreditation body or accreditation association have been complied with.
Official regional accreditation mark in the USA
In the United States, the term “accreditation” is not protected by law. To be considered official, an accreditation association or body must meet one of the following criteria:
- Member of the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
• Member of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA)
• Recognition by the US Department of Education
An accreditation is only officially recognized if at least one of these criteria is met.
Facts about the US regional accreditations
Regional accreditation is the most common form of accreditation in the United States. Regional accreditation agencies independently assess performance standards from research universities to community colleges to all types of colleges and schools that exist in the United States.
In the United States, a country located in North America according to allcountrylist, therefore, a high quality of higher education institutions is primarily guaranteed through accreditation. The accreditation process usually takes place in the course of a self-analysis and a peer review process and is based on strict criteria.
Colleges and universities must analyze in regular self-assessments how well they meet these standards, depending on the specifications of the accreditation agency. After a review by the accreditation commission, the accreditation status of the institution is determined.
The regions of the respective regional accreditation agency are linked to one another in various ways in order to be able to act as a transnational system. Also have the regional
Accreditation agencies develop common guidelines and meet every two years to exchange information across regions. This is to ensure nationwide recognition of degrees within the USA.
Regional Accreditations in the USA: Agencies at a Glance
There are currently the following seven regional accreditation agencies in the United States that are key contributors to the quality assurance of higher education in the United States. They are each responsible for a specific part of the country. The recognized regional accreditation agencies include:
The HLC (Higher Learning Commission) was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditation bodies in the United States. The HLC accredits higher education institutions that award at least a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in the North Central Region.
Regional Jurisdiction: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
The MSCHE (Middle States Commission on Higher Education) was founded in 1919 and is a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to quality assurance and accreditation in the US higher education sector. The MSCHE is officially recognized by the US Department of Education and the CHEA. Institutions accredited by MSCHE are checked at regular intervals to ensure continuous evaluation of all educational institutions.
Regional Jurisdiction: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and isolated colleges in other states.
The NEASC-CIHE (New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on Institutions of Higher Education) was founded in 1885 and is the oldest of the regional accreditation agencies for schools and universities in the USA. NEASC is based in Burlington, Massachusetts. NEASC accredits more than 2,000 public and independent schools, colleges, and universities in the six New England states and some overseas schools.
Regional jurisdiction: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and isolated colleges in other states.
The NWCCU (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities) strives to continuously improve the quality of study and teaching at colleges and universities in the northwestern United States. The NWCCU promotes an analytical, institutional self-assessment and a critical peer review at the respective universities.
Regional jurisdiction: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington
The SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges) accredits public and private educational institutions in the southern United States. Its headquarters are in North Druid Hills, Georgia. The SACS-COC accredits both public and private universities in the tertiary education sector in the United States, including community colleges and four-year colleges.
Regional jurisdiction: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and others
The ACCJC-WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges) accredits private and public community colleges and other educational institutions that award associate degrees. Since 1962, the ACCJC-WASC has represented a rigorous peer review system as an independent organization in the western United States, which constantly evaluates the universities.
Regional jurisdiction: California, Hawaii, and others
The WSCUC (WASC Senior College and University Commission), also known as “the Commission”, is responsible for the accreditation of public and private universities, colleges and four-year colleges in the United States. The WSCUC accredits institutions as a whole, not individual programs. The WSCUC accreditation process therefore not only promotes the development and maintenance of effective study programs, but also a high level of quality in study and teaching.
Regional Jurisdiction: California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and others
Benefits of regional accreditation in the US
In addition to the officially recognized regional accreditations, there are also accreditation agencies that are not accepted by CHEA, ASPA or the US Department of Education. The following list provides reasons why an officially recognized accreditation is beneficial not only for the university itself, but also for its international students:
- The recognition of studies and qualifications as a Bachelor or Master at US universities without regional or national accreditation is problematic not only in the States but also abroad.
- A change of study, for example from a community college to a university, is only possible with an official regional accreditation.
- Receiving state funding such as BAföG abroad or scholarships is linked to attending a regionally accredited university that is attending a regionally accredited university.
- Employers in the USA or abroad usually only recognize a degree if it was completed at an officially recognized university.
Criticism of regional accreditations
There are various interest groups among universities that are calling for more state control in higher education. The transformation of the higher education sector that goes hand in hand with regional accreditations into a task that is more and more subject to the individual states is seen as a cut in academic freedom.