Accreditation is the process of certifying that a college or other higher education institution is offering high-quality learning opportunities and has undergone an evaluation process by education authorities. The United States Department of Education, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, and regional educational commissions evaluate and recognize college and other higher education institutions. National accreditation is performed through the USDE, and other agencies, and regional accreditation is performed through six regional accrediting agencies.

National Accreditation

A nationally accredited college offers programs and degrees other than general education courses that are unique and fall into a specific category, like a trade school or online college. National accreditation compares these colleges to like colleges instead of comparing them against colleges that offer more general courses and programs.

National Accreditation Certification

National accreditation agencies are certified on a federal level and evaluate schools nationwide and in other countries, instead of regionally. Each agency only evaluates specific schools, such as the agency known as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, which evaluates career schools and technology programs.

Nationally accredited colleges not only offer specialized programs but certain colleges offer faith-based courses and programs. The faith-based colleges are accredited through the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, the Association for Biblical Higher Education, the Association of Theological Schools or other faith-based national accreditation agencies.

During the evaluation process, specific standards and categories are measured and then compared to like colleges. The results are made available to the college and are accessible to future students as well as benefactors and those involved in the operation of the college.

Regional Accreditation

A regional accredited college offers more traditional, general education courses. The accreditation concentrates on six specific areas or regions of the United States. Regional accreditation agencies include the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which evaluates colleges in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges; Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Regional Accreditation Certification

Regional accreditation agencies are recognized by the CHEA and the USDE. But unlike national accreditation agencies, schools that apply for regional accreditation must make compromises to programs that are too specific and/or are faith-based.

Credit Transfer Issue -- Regional Accreditation

Regionally accredited colleges usually do not accept credits from nationally accredited institutions. But nationally accredited colleges do accept credits from regionally accredited colleges. This issue is a problem if you decide to attend a regionally accredited school for a bachelors degree and your credits are from a nationally accredited college like a trade or faith-based school.

Graduate School Issue

If you plan on furthering your education and you are attending a nationally accredited college, your credits and degree may not transfer to a regionally accredited graduate school program. Only regionally accredited degrees are accepted by the majority of U.S. graduate programs, due to the higher education standards set by regionally accredited colleges.

Cost Difference

Nationally accredited colleges are cheaper than regionally accredited colleges, although the schools offer the same financial aid options as regionally accredited colleges. Both offer similar application processes.