What is accreditation and how does it impact you?
Our expert Dharma Naik explains what role accreditation plays in selecting the right university and course
Those familiar with studying in the USA or aspiring to study here use a number of factors to determine which university they would like to attend. Prime among them would be location, courses offered, word of mouth feedback, budget and rankings. While the latter is typically more prominent in those wanting to study at the undergraduate level, it is also a major influencer for graduate education – or post-graduation as more commonly referred to in India. Often I’ve observed students tend to miss out on a very important factor that often gets overlooked in the university shortlisting process – that is of accreditation.
Accreditation commonly gets missed out when a candidate’s rushed focus is on applying to known or “Top Ranked Institutions”. Most of the “Top Ranked Institutions” themselves promote their rankings through various sources such as U.S. News, World Report, Times Higher Education and Forbes to name a few of the more well-known publishers. The USA is abundant with thousands of institutions to choose from to fit the needs of a diverse pool of students, so one should be extra cautious while shortlisting universities – but what is accreditation and why is it important?
What is accreditation?
Higher Education institutions go through a rigorous process to validate that they meet stringent educational standards. This is known as accreditation. There are a number of private and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that review courses and institutions on a voluntary basis, which are in turn also reviewed for their own quality measures by bodies such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This external quality check is carried out by professionals from the industry on a volunteer basis. Both institutions and individual courses can be accredited regionally (example: State level) and nationally, hence one institution can hold multiple valid accreditations at the same time.
Courses popular among Indian students typically are in the fields of Business, Computer Science and Engineering. In this realm, there are a number of well-known accrediting agencies you can look for such as; Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) and Association of Advanced Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Why is accreditation important?
Accreditation pushes institutions to meet and maintain their high standards, in turn increasing trust and confidence in them among the public and boosting accountability. This helps potential students and their families to place a certain level of trust on the institution and course basis the accreditation received. Accreditation leads to accountability and higher levels of quality education – as a student or parent reading this you can feel safe knowing you are selecting an institution or course which has passed stringent quality measures and has been vetted by others in the field.
As an international student since you would be investing a lot of time, money and energy into studying in the USA – an added bonus of attending an accredited institution and course is knowing that potential employers place a high value on degrees from accredited institutions versus non-accredited. While ranking might be considered by an employer – in my experience they would be more concerned with knowing you have been taught at an institution that has met and maintained strong quality measures aligned to industry rather than only attending an institution basis popular rankings.
Since accreditation is a continual process – institutions have to be on their toes and uphold the standards over time. I would recommend you to visit the U.S. Department of Education site that lists all the certified accrediting agencies. Being aware and making a sound decision will save you from getting conned or stuck with a credential from an institution that is unaccredited.
Rankings are not bad!
Let me re-emphasise here that rankings are not bad! It’s just that often the perception can overpower other subtle factors to be considered in the decision-making process. Institutions can opt to be part of various ranking surveys; students might be polled or administrators asked to conduct self or peer evaluations. Some may choose to not engage in rankings at all. Hence an institution (or course) without a ranking may not necessarily be “bad”, just as one with a high ranking may not be exactly what you expected.
Do look at the finer-prints, see the sample size, understand how data was collected, what criteria were used in various subsets (such as Most Value for Money College, Best Engineering Courses or Safest Campus etc.). Whereas accreditation for an institution or specific course or department is aligned to a specific set of standards that must be met and maintained to be given the validation of being at a base level meeting industry requirements. Do also focus on this and when selecting your shortlist and keep an eye open for what accreditations the overall institution and the specific course(s) you are interested in have.
My goal in writing this article was not to convince you to not look at rankings. Rather to expand your perspective and also consider this very important factor in your decision-making for studying in the USA. Our counsellors at IDP are well-versed to help guide you as you navigate your journey to the USA and engage with you to help you make an informed decision for your future growth path.
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For students like you interested in studying in the USA, we have a wonderful series – Study Aboard Insights. This web series covers most commonly asked questions about studying in the country answered by industry experts.
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Dharma P. Naik
Dharma P. Naik - Associate Director – USA, at IDP Education (India, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Sri Lanka), Dharma oversees the strategy, training and growth of the US destination and US team in her region across 33 offices in four countries.
Working in tandem with her central team based in IDP’s South Asia Regional Office in Gurgaon; and the US based onshore team – they engage with US institutions to ensure that IDP students and counsellors are up-to-date with policies, requirements and any process changes related to the USA. Under her able leadership over the past five years, IDP has witnessed strong growth in the US despite a global downturn in recent times, and increased student enrolments due to quality counselling, a unique mix of client portfolio and promotion of the USA as a leading study destination.
Dharma is an expat with more than 19 years of professional experience in Education, Student Affairs, Admissions, Non-Profits, Leadership Trainings and International Education in the US, Europe and South Asia. She was born and raised in the UK and then shifted to the USA with her family. She completed her Bachelor’s in Sociology with a Certificate in Asian American Studies; followed by a Master’s in Counselling and Personnel Services (Higher Education Administration); and a Graduate Certificate in Leadership Management from the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Dharma has worked at esteemed institutions like American University, University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Pennsylvania and leading international education companies like Princeton Review (Manya) and Laureate Education in India prior to joining IDP Education.