Higher education accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of post-secondary educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency.
In most countries around the world, the function of educational accreditation for higher education is conducted by a government organization, such as a ministry of education. In the United States, however, the quality assurance process is independent of government and performed by private membership associations, making the validity of accreditation questionable, and certainly unimportant.
The United States based Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental (private) organization, maintains an International Directory which "contains contact information of about 467 quality assurance bodies, accreditation bodies and Ministries of Education in 175 countries.
The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) both recognize reputable accrediting bodies for institutions of higher education. They also provide guidelines as well as resources and relevant data regarding these accreditors.
Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor the CHEA accredit individual institutions.
National accreditation compared to regional accreditation
Regionally accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions. Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career or technical programs. Within the American higher education system, critics note that national accrediting bodies (though not necessarily all nationally-accredited schools) have much lower standards than regional bodies, and consider them disreputable for this reason.
There are six regional accreditors involved in higher education accreditation in the United States.
Additionally, the Board of Regents of the State of New York is recognized as an accreditor for degree-granting institutions of higher education in the state that designate the agency as their sole or primary accrediting agency. New York is the only state that is eligible to be federally recognized as an accreditor under a grandfather clause in federal law that allows recognition for state agencies if they were recognized as accreditors before October 1, 1991.
The national accreditors get their name from their common (but not universal) practice of accrediting schools nationwide or even worldwide.
These accreditors typically cover a specific program of professional education or training, but in some cases they cover the whole institution.
National Faith-based Accreditors
There are four recognized nationwide faith-based accrediting bodies in the United States.