There are many reasons why a graduate program should be accredited, including its recognition among employers, its eligibility for financial aid, and its weight in academic circles. Students who are looking into graduate programs can benefit from both a regional accreditation and a professional, or programmatic accreditation, when they evaluate the benefits of both the program and its impact on their long-term career development prospects.
Regional and Professional Accreditations Are Important to Many Employers
Increasingly, employers are becoming sophisticated about the prestige and merit of graduate programs at all schools, both online and off. Their goal is to make sure that employees are developing their skills in a meaningful way, using a program that has been tested and approved by major academic and professional bodies. While regional accreditation is required by almost all employers when considering a candidate's educational merits, professional accreditation is used for other reasons.
First and foremost, a professional accreditation is used by many employers when considering whether the program is eligible for tuition reimbursement. Employees who wish to leverage reimbursement to lower their costs of earning an advanced degree will need to search for programs with the likes of AACSB, SHRM, NCATE, and NASPAA seals of approval for this reason. Professional accreditation also allows graduates to join a stronger and more elite network of professionals, which may help them dramatically improve their career prospects over the long-term.
Academic Positions Require Solid Accreditation
Students pursuing a graduate degree with the hope of entering into an academic position will want to make sure that the program features the regional and professional accreditation required by their eventual employer. Many business schools with an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation, for example, require their new hires to have obtained a graduate or doctoral degree from an institution that has also been accredited by the AACSB. The same is true of many schools that specialize in public policy and public affairs, education, human resources, public relations, engineering, and technology.
The key thing to consider about these professional accreditations is that they almost always focus on a strong blend of classroom theory and scholarly research. Since many full-time faculty members, and even some adjuncts, will be asked to conduct research as part of their position, this special designation allows universities to narrow the candidate pool to only those most qualified for merging the responsibilities of teaching and ongoing learning.
Financial Aid Hinges on Regional Accreditation
While many students utilize either an employer reimbursement scheme or graduate funding options that require classroom teaching and research, many others depend on state and federal financial aid programs to fund their advanced education. Only programs with a CHEA-recognized regional or national accreditation can take part in federal aid programs, including the generous Stafford Loan allotments for graduate and doctoral students, according to US News and World Report. If affording the program requires financial aid, then the program most certainly requires a proper accreditation from a recognized regional or national body.
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Accreditation Ensures Quality and Recognition for Graduate Students
Regional accreditation is a key benchmark of a school's academic rigor and financial aid qualifications, while professional accreditation ensures that a graduate degree will be compatible with the widest possible number of job opportunities. These two key facts are why a graduate program should be accredited regionally at the very least, and professionally for students who wish to make a career out of teaching, research, or professional networking.