Community college accreditation in the USA is a form of independent, professional certification that focuses on schools and programs in a particular field. Accreditation therefore assures you and your parents that the community college adheres to high quality standards. Which means the programs are delivered by qualified faculty and are constantly updated to follow the changes and meet the needs of the relevant industry or working world. Attending an accredited school or program is often thought to make you more competitive on the job market.
Accreditation in the US takes place at different levels. At the highest level, governmental and other agencies oversee and recognize the accrediting bodies. For instance, the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Association (CHEA) and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) grant power to associations that oversee accreditation at the regional, institutional or program level.
Regional: The US Department of Education recognizes 6 distinct higher educational regions, each of which is overseen by a different accrediting body. This is the type of accreditation most commonly referred to and is for a college as a whole, not for individual programs. Accreditation by these regional agencies isn't automatic: this is voluntary accreditation, and not all schools choose to become accredited. Some regional agencies are focused specifically on two-year colleges.
Institutional: Depending on the kind of community college it is (e.g., private, technical, Christian, etc.) it may also be accredited by institute-type specific agencies. Community colleges can be quite different in character, size, location and in the programs they offer. Therefore a community college may be accredited by one or more of the several organizations representing community colleges in the USA.
Specialized: Specialized accreditation is a type of accreditation that focuses on specific areas of study and individual programs. This is sometimes called professional accreditation, because it means specific programs meet the national standards for that field of study. Community colleges cover a fairly wide range of programs, and each college usually has a page on its website listing both institutional and individual program accreditation.
When assessing quality, you can also look at whether a comunity college (or its programs) has any memberships in, or endorsements by, professional associations which reflect certain standards of quality, but this is not the same as official accreditation. For instance, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) does not accredit programs, but is a national organization committed to maintaining and promoting the quality of community colleges in the USA.
Some Institutional-Specific Accrediting Agencies Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Established:1952 Location: Novato, California Web: www.wascweb.org Scope: Accreditation and pre-accreditation ("Candidate for Accreditation") of two-year, associate's degree-granting institutions located in California, Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and other territories.
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools Established: 1956 Location: Washington, DC Web address: www.acics.org Scope: Accredits private postsecondary institutions offering certificates or diplomas, and postsecondary institutions offering associate's or bachelor's degrees in professional, technical, or occupational programs.
Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission
Established: 1991 Location: Forest, Virginia Web: www.tracs.org Scope: Accredits postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer certificates, diplomas, associate's degree, and baccalaureate degrees, including institutions that offer distance education.
Why Accreditation? The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies have no legal control over institutions or programs; they promote certain standards and approve or renew membership of institutions that apply and meet the accreditation standards or criteria. Certain licensing programs may require that you've been through a course of study with specialized accreditation, because it ensures that you have been taught by faculty qualified to teach in that field. The US Secretary of Education and CHEA each maintain and publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, and most institutions attain eligibility for Federal funds by holding accredited or pre-accredited status with one of the recognized accrediting agencies.
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