Why is Accreditation Important for Higher Education Institutions?

This is part of our Accreditation 101 series. At Woolf, our mission is to increase access to world-class higher education and ensure that it is globally recognized and transferable. Accreditation is an important part of that.

January 5, 2022

By Joshua Broggi, PhD

Accreditation boosts public trust

Accreditation is hard and complicated, but it is core to the $2tn Higher Education industry. Without it, education programs risk gaining mainstream recognition, relegated instead to the much smaller informal markets.

Accreditation agencies monitor and assess the quality of education provided by a Higher Education Institution (HEI). The process makes it easy for employers and the public to gauge the overall quality of an institution or program without having to put the time and effort into doing their own detailed assessment.

Newly accredited higher education institutions must also agree to periodically undergo a renewal review. Doing so boosts accountability by encouraging institutions to not only maintain but also continuously improve the quality of their programs. Thus accreditation often results in institutional improvements and increases in quality.

Accreditation enables transferable credits

Some HEIs will only accept academic credits or degrees from institutions that have a certain type of accreditation (e.g., national, regional, or specialized).

Government-authorized accreditation is the most widely-recognized — employers and other HEIs may not even consider accepting credits from a program that is not accredited by a government-recognized authority.

Accreditation impacts financial aid opportunities in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Education awards federal student aid exclusively to students enrolled at HEIs that meet the standards of federally-recognized accreditation bodies.

Accreditation allows students to sit for licensing examinations

Many careers require workers to become certified or licensed, but students can only sit for those examinations if they have earned a degree from an accredited institution.

A college or university’s accreditation status is also often considered by employers.

But getting accredited can be expensive and slow

All the processes around accreditation provide important controls on quality, and they provide protections for students. But the processes themselves aren’t designed to operate at modern speeds.

The American Council on Education (which represents nonprofit HEIs) stated that “the current regional basis of accreditation is probably not the way America would structure the system if starting from scratch” (ACE 2012, 18).

There are amazing educators starting programs with highly trained faculty around the world, but they’re currently relegated to the “unofficial” education market because of the operational and regulatory complexity of acquiring and maintaining accreditation.

Modern teachers need to be able to move much more quickly in launching new degree programs — but our bureaucratic 19th-century systems really aren’t capable of handling this type of speed.