Accreditation & Associates Degrees: The Facts

An associate degree is an invaluable way to advance your career and help you get a better job. What’s more, an associate degree can usually be obtained in half the time needed to get a bachelor’s degree, allowing you to complete your school and find that job twice as fast. You’ll also be able to work at your own pace and complete coursework and examinations in the privacy and comfort of your own home if you enroll in an online associate degree program. However, before deciding on an online college or university, it’s imperative that you check the accreditation. That’s the best way to know you’ll be getting a quality education and one that employers will recognize.

There are a variety of accrediting agencies operating today, providing either national or regional accreditation. A given college or university’s accreditation status is monitored by multiple groups, including the U.S. Department of Education and a non-governmental group called the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Both institutions maintain online, searchable databases full of accreditation information that can be sorted by accrediting agency or degree-granting program. Legitimate, accredited online degree programs are the only ones worth considering when deciding where to get your associate degree. These databases will help you avoid "diploma mills," the disreputable for-profit businesses that exist solely to make money off students without providing them with a strong education.

You should also check whether your prospective online associate degree program has been nationally or regionally accredited. The difference is just what it sounds like: some organizations have a national focus, while other accrediting agencies target specific regions of the country. However, if you decide to change schools, it’s not uncommon to hit some speed bumps when it comes to transferring credits between schools with different types of accreditation. Typically, nationally accredited universities accept credits from regionally accredited programs, but it doesn’t always work the other way around.

It’s also good to plan ahead for any post-degree qualifications your desired career might require. For instance, a student pursuing an associate degree in medical assisting will need to attend a school that’s been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, which will enable him or her to take a test to become a Certified Medical Assistant with the American Medical Association. Not every career has such requirements, but you’ll need to know going in whether yours will have any, and base your school choice on whether the institution meets the standards of your professional agency.

With a few basic guidelines, you’ll be able to find an accredited school that puts you one step closer to obtaining a bachelor degree.