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Like other colleges and universities, distance learning programs strive to seek out accreditation to show students and employers that the education those programs offer are high quality and respected. Distance learning accreditation is a process through which that analysis of the school's programs takes place. The accrediting agencies that participate in distance learning accreditation are the same agencies that participate in the accreditation process of on-site colleges and universities as well, though there are other accrediting agencies that conduct distance learning education as well. It is important to note the accrediting agency when considering participating in a distance learning programs, as some accreditations are better than others; it is also important to remember that accreditation may differ from country to country or region to region.
The most commonly sought-after distance learning accreditation, like the accreditation of other on-site colleges and universities, is regional accreditation. In the United States, each regional agency covers certain states. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), for example, is responsible for accreditation in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as well as some international schools in Africa and the Middle East. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) covers accreditation in California and Hawaii, as well as several U.S. territories and international locations.
Another agency called the Distance Education Training Council (DETC) can also grant distance learning accreditation without the accreditation of a regional agency. This agency is recognized by the United States Department of Education, but the accreditation an institution earns from the DETC is not as highly respected as the accreditation earned by regional agencies. Some employers, in fact, frown upon such accreditation and instead prefer candidates who obtained a degree from a regionally accredited agency instead. Other educational institutions may also refuse to accept transfer credits from an institution that does not have regional accreditation and instead has a DETC accreditation. While this may not matter for many students who are trying to earn a professional certificate or are participating in continuing education, choosing a program with distance learning accreditation from DETC instead of a regional agency may be the difference between getting hired or being passed over for a job, or even losing credits during a transfer.
Some schools choose to operate without distance learning accreditation at all. These types of schools are generally considered lower quality institutions that do not focus adequately on education. Some are for-profit schools that are trying to boost profits, just as any business would, which often means the quality of the education suffers. This may or may not be true across the board, but it is worth researching the validity of degrees and certificates granted by such schools before enrolling.
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