What is accreditation, and why does it matter to you?

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a credential from an accredited institution


When browsing job postings or online engineering degree brochures, you’ve probably seen the phrase “degree from an accredited institution” in the list of requirements. But what is accreditation?

At the simplest level, accreditation is a sign that a school meets widely accepted standards for educational instruction and design. It is an essential feature of degree-granting institutions, including the University of California, Riverside (UCR), which has regional accreditation. UCR received its first accreditation in 1956 and has continuously maintained this distinction ever since. Re-accreditation occurs approximately every 10 years.

A look at accreditation and why it matters for students

For a college or university, accreditation represents current compliance with industry standards as well as ongoing commitment to improvement. Both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) — a nongovernmental institution — oversee and guide the multiple regional and national accrediting bodies that establish the key accreditation guidelines for postsecondary degree-granting programs.

It is important to clarify that neither the Department of Education nor CHEA actually accredits any individual institutions. That task is instead entrusted to a select group of private regional and national accreditors, along with specialized accreditors for certain fields, such as business and accounting.

According to the Department of Education’s official guidance, the main goals and functions of these accrediting bodies are:

  • Assessing the quality of academic programs at institutions of higher education
  • Fostering a culture of continuous improvement among accredited schools, to raise educational standards over the long term
  • Involving faculty and staff in the planning and evaluation of educational programs
  • Contributing to criteria for professional certification and licensure as well as to the courses that help in attaining such credentials

Let’s take a closer look at how accreditors strive for these goals, at both regional and national levels:

Regional accreditation

This is the most common and reputable form of accreditation. Depending on location, schools with regional accreditation are recognized by the following bodies:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WASC).
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Higher Learning Commission

Institutions with regional accreditation typically only accept transfer credits from similarly accredited schools. UCR has regional accreditation from the WASC.

In its 2015 Interim Report to the WASC, UCR highlighted its evaluation processes for its graduate programs such as the online engineering degree track. The UCR Academic Senate’s Graduate Council conducts rigorous program reviews every seven years to ensure that each degree track is providing appropriate training to students.

Graduates should ultimately emerge from their programs as expert researchers and communicators, and the self-assessment processes undertaken for re-accreditation are key parts of realizing that goal. In this way and many others, the regional accreditation process provides guideposts for the quality assurance that is in the best interests of both students and the schools they attend.

National accreditation

While less common and prestigious than regional accreditation, national accreditation is still an option for some institutions, mainly vocational and trade schools, many of which are for-profit. The majority of not-for-profit institutions are also theoretically eligible for national accreditation, but they do not need it if they already have regional accreditation.

As with regional accreditation, the Department of Education and CHEA monitor the national accrediting bodies, which as of 2018 included the following organizations:

  • Distance Education Accrediting Council
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges

The benefits of accreditation

Across the board, accreditation is important because it lets students know that they can trust the schools they attend, since those institutions have demonstrated compliance with industry standards. Graduates with degrees from accredited schools like UCR have the peace of mind that the professional, master’s or bachelor’s degrees they have earned will be recognized by potential employers and professional organizations. Accreditation is akin to a seal of quality.

In addition to this overarching benefit, regional and specialized accreditation also conveys several other advantages, including:

  • Allowing students to transfer credits between accredited schools
  • Making students in accredited programs eligible for financial aid
  • Giving institutions benchmarks for improvement

For online degree programs, such as the Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) at UCR, accreditation is especially important. It helps distinguish programs at worthwhile schools — i.e., ones with instruction at least on par with traditional in-class education — from less reputable alternatives. Online education has come a long way since its inception decades ago, when only a few institutions participated. Selecting an accredited school like UCR for your online engineering degree gives you an immediate advantage in quality of instruction and overall value of education.

The UCR MSE is a 100 percent online track that’s ideal for working professionals looking for maximum flexibility in how they approach their coursework. The same accreditations that govern the on-campus programs at UCR also apply to the online offerings.

More on accreditation and the UCR MSE program

With WASC accreditation, UCR is a reputable institution providing high-quality options for students at any stage of their academic and professional journeys. No matter which of the specialization options engineering students select, they can have confidence that the courses they are taking conform to recognized quality standards.

If you need more information about UCR’s accreditation, be sure to visit our main accreditation page. You can also learn more about applying to and completing the UCR online MSE track by taking a look at the program overview page, where you can answer a few quick questions to receive a free copy of our brochure with details on specific courses and requirements.

Recommended Readings:

What is an online master’s degree like?
5 engineering career paths of the future


WASC Interim Report

UCR Reaccreditation by Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior Commission