When I travel for business or leisure, I’m a review reader. My phone has an entire tile filled with travel apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google maps for quick access to Google reviews. You see, before I spend my money on a meal or an attraction, I want to know what I can expect. Two-star review—not eating there. Five-star reviews and lots of descriptions help ensure that I’m going to have a quality experience. Occasionally, a review steers me away from a potentially dangerous situation—parking garage not recommended due to frequent assaults. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Similarly, choosing a school to attend to earn a degree should also involve reading the reviews. And I’m not just talking about the five-star reviews you might see on an institution’s Facebook page. One of the best measures of a school’s ratings is the status it holds with accrediting agencies.
In the United States, six regional accrediting agencies are in turn regulated by the Department of Education. There are also specialized accrediting agencies that evaluate the effectiveness of an institution offering a specific program type.
At Winebrenner, we are accredited by three agencies, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and The Higher Learning Commission (HLC). HLC is a regional accreditor, ATS a specialized accreditor for theological programs, and CACREP a specialized accreditor for Clinical Mental Health and related programs.
Accrediting agencies ensure that a school offers quality educational programs, uses qualified faculty, does business according to ethical standards, meets financial standards, and most importantly, graduates students who are ready for employment in their field of study. Additionally, specialized accreditors ensure that the experience of students in diverse schools is comparable and meets a similar standard. This provides the ability to transfer credits between schools with this specialized status. Each school is following a similar standard for qualifications of instructors, the number of contact hours, content, and rigor.
Some fields of employment will only hire those with a degree earned from a school accredited by a specialized accreditor. For example, some denominations will only accept a Master of Divinity from an ATS accredited school, and some states will only license clinical mental health counselors who have graduated from CACREP accredited programs.
Another critical role of accreditors is certifying schools for Title IV funds. Without an approved accreditor, institutions cannot offer their students the benefit of federal loans or grants.
An accredited school is like a restaurant with excellent reviews. You know what you will be getting based on the available information. These agencies perform detailed reviews of the institutions they accredit on a regular cycle. Most accreditors require an institution to provide annual public data on the educational effectiveness of the institution. This is an outward facing scorecard for the institution with data that is subject to verification by the accreditor.
Accreditation is essential to ensuring the quality and long-term value of the degree earned. Make sure you check the reviews before you enroll!
Kathryn Helleman, DMin
Director of Institutional Assessment & Planning