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Types of Accreditation

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation is an overall review of the entire university and is typically performed by a country’s national or regional accrediting body (such as the six regional accrediting bodies in the United States). These national or regional agencies perform a review of the entire university, from its operating budgets to its student services.

Depending on where the university is located, it must be approved by one of these agencies in order to grant degrees and be considered legitimate in the country in which it operates. In most cases, institutional accreditation must be maintained, requiring the institution to be reviewed every few years.

Specialized Accreditation

Once institutional accreditation is earned, universities can take accreditation a step further and seek "specialized," "programmatic" or "professional" accreditations for each of its disciplines. Specialized reviews are performed by nongovernmental, private agencies that are knowledgeable about a particular field of study. For example, a Department of Nursing can apply for specialized accreditations that specifically review its medical programs.

Specialized accreditation communicates to other schools, potential employers, and the general public that the university’s degree programs in a particular field have passed a rigorous review, and that students are learning all they need to know about that area of study. Specialized accreditation also must be maintained. It can affect the ability of students/graduates to find employment, transfer classes between universities, and pursue additional degrees at other institutions. However, not all specialized accreditations are alike. Some are recognized only within its home country, while others are recognized worldwide.  In addition, there are specialized accreditations that only evaluate community/vocational colleges and two-year programs, and those that include undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degree programs.