Barbara Christe: Understanding College Accreditation

When I left the clinical engineering field to become an educator, I didn’t foresee my career path as a “connector” of healthcare technology management (HTM) and higher education. But the change has allowed me to blend my experiences. With this in mind, I would like to share my broad view on the accreditation of colleges and universities, which can be important for career advancement in the HTM profession, as some employers have expanded their degree expectations.

First, you should know that almost every college and university in the United States is accredited (with only a handful of exceptions, mainly for religious schools). Accreditation has many purposes, including ensuring academic quality. An important focus is associated with the ability to utilize federal financial aid (Title IV funds).

Accreditation is available to institutions from one of two groups: Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). About 85% of all colleges, including every public institution, are regionally accredited—meaning they have been reviewed by CHEA. The other accreditation credential is granted by approximately 50 private groups vetted by the USDE, including those that are faith-based or oriented towards specialty training (e.g., Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation). Institutions accredited by one of these USDE-deemed agencies are nationally accredited.

Institutional profit status and accreditation are not related. Some well-known for-profit colleges have regional accreditation. In addition, the delivery format (e.g., in person, online) is not directly correlated to accreditation status. To make this even more confusing, schools can change their accreditation affiliation over the lifetime of the institution. Finally, both national and regional accreditation focus on the institution, not the educational program itself—program accreditation is a different issue completely.

Why is all of this important for HTM professionals or those who are considering the field? Because when looking for a school, students may focus on evaluating program qualities such as content, location, cost, or flexibility without considering how college accreditation may affect them. The transfer of credits between colleges can be challenging when accreditation varies. Many regionally accredited schools limit or do not accept credits earned at nationally accredited colleges. In addition, some employers may require a degree from a regionally accredited college.

So, I encourage you to do your homework when thinking about the credentials you want to earn and be sure that your plans align with your intended employer or career trajectory. The work may pay off years after the degree is earned!

Barbara Christe is dean of the School of Engineering Technology at Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale, NY, and a member of the BI&T Editorial Board.

2 thoughts on “Barbara Christe: Understanding College Accreditation

  1. I agree completely with you that selecting an accredited institution/program adds confidence that when a student graduates, the degree will be accepted without challenge or issues. This validation removes a potential roadblock in seeking employment after college.

    Do your homework!

  2. In addition to institutional accreditation there is accreditation of degree programs. For example ABET accredits many degree programs including Biomedical Engineering (4 year) and Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering Technology (2 year). Whether or not a program is accredited can influence future opportunities. Employers might prefer graduates of an accredited program with less attention to institutional accreditation. Third party organizations may also require graduation from an accredited program. For example Certification in Clinical Engineering generally requires graduation from an accredited program.

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