Regional Accreditation for Online Schools

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When selecting a distance learning college, you should choose an online school accredited by one of the five regional accreditors. These regional agencies are recognized by both the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They are the same regional associations that grant accreditation to most brick-and-mortar public and private universities

To determine whether an online school is regionally accredited, find out the state in which the online program is based. Then look to see what regional agency grants accreditation to schools in that state. The following five regional accreditation agencies are recognized as legitimate accreditors:

New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)

Accrediting schools in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the NEASC was founded in 1885 to establish and maintain high standards from prekindergarten to the doctoral level. The association has been in operation longer than any other U.S. accreditation agency. The NEASC is an independent, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization that connects and serves over 2,000 public and independent schools, technical/career institutions, colleges and universities in New England plus international schools in more than 65 nations worldwide.


AdvancED was created through a 2006 merger of the pre-K to 12 divisions of the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI)—and expanded through the addition of the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC) in 2012.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is a voluntary, nongovernmental, regional membership association that serves higher education institutions in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other geographic areas in which the commission conducts accrediting activities. The accreditation process ensures institutional accountability, self-appraisal, improvement, and innovation through peer review and rigorous standards. 

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC)

Accrediting schools in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Palau, Micronesia, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and other Australasian locations, the ASC WASC encourages and supports institutional development and improvement through self-evaluation as well as mid-cycle, follow-up and special reports, and periodic peer evaluation of institutional quality.

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is an independent, nonprofit membership organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the regional authority on educational quality and institutional effectiveness of higher education institutions in the region comprising Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The NWCCU establishes accreditation criteria and evaluation procedures for reviewing its member institutions. At publication time, the commission oversees regional accreditation for 162 institutions. If you earn a degree from an online school that is accredited by one of these associations, that degree is as valid as a degree from any other accredited school. Most employers and other universities will automatically accept your degree.

National Accreditation vs. Regional Accreditation

Alternatively, some online schools are accredited by the Distance Education Training Council. The DETC is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. DETC accreditation is considered valid by many employers. However, many regionally accredited schools do not accept course credits from DETC-accredited schools, and some employers may be leery of these degrees.

Find Out If Your Online College Is Accredited

You can find out instantly if an online school is accredited by a regional accreditor, the DETC or another legitimate accreditor recognized by the U.S. Department of Education by searching the U.S. Department of Education database. You may use the CHEA website to search for both CHEA- and USDE-recognized accreditors or to view a chart comparing CHEA and USDE recognition).

Note that "recognition" of an accrediting agency does not guarantee that schools and employers will accept a particular degree. Ultimately, regional accreditation remains the most widely accepted form of accreditation for degrees earned online and at brick-and-mortar universities.

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Littlefield, Jamie. "Regional Accreditation for Online Schools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Littlefield, Jamie. (2020, August 25). Regional Accreditation for Online Schools. Retrieved from Littlefield, Jamie. "Regional Accreditation for Online Schools." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).