Parents of public school children know their local schools are required to meet standards set by their state government. You don’t have to wonder or worry whether the credits your child earns in high school will be valid and transferrable when it’s time to apply to college or your student changes schools.
But many parents do not realize that private schools – including online high schools – are not automatically up to par when it comes to meeting vital education standards. Only schools that have been formally accredited by a recognized agency can claim to offer “real” credits. That includes a diploma.
What is regional accreditation?
Accreditation is a rigorous, detailed evaluation process that is conducted by an independent organization to assure schools meet appropriate educational standards. It is not a one-time process, but requires regular self-evaluation and periodic formal review and renewal.
Regional accreditation means the curriculum offered meets or exceeds the same standards that must be met by every public or private school in your part of the country. The U.S. is divided into geographic areas, each of which have their own association, but the accreditation standards are the same from region to region. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of all recognized regional and national accrediting agencies. If a school that you are considering lists an accreditation agency that is not on this list, beware that it may not be a legitimate accreditation agency.
What’s the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate accrediting agency?
A legitimate agency requires the school to undergo extensive self-evaluation in all areas of their operation: academics (including student achievement), quality of faculty and staff, operations, finances, etc. Then the accrediting body verifies the claims of the school in these areas. An illegitimate accrediting agency either does very limited evaluation of the school, such as reviewing only the financial condition or that the school operates according to its advertising, or the agency simply rubber stamps a school’s application without doing anything more than taking a fee. The worst type of illegitimate accreditation is an organization created by the school itself to look like a separate business, when actually the school is merely accrediting itself. Because these unethical practices occur, it is wise to verify that the accreditation agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and if it is not, to do proper research to determine if the agency is truly an outside organization that carefully reviews the schools it accredits.
There are six regional accrediting bodies readily recognized by public and private schools nationwide: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Accreditation Commission, and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The latter three regional accreditation agencies are now under the umbrella of Cognia. Because Sterling Academy is located in Florida, we are accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, which is part of Cognia. While some local schools may not yet be familiar with the name Cognia, they would recognize SACS, our regional accrediting body.
Choosing a regionally accredited online school protects your child’s educational status.
You should never even consider a school that cannot easily demonstrate they are accredited by a recognized agency. Without proper accreditation, you have no assurance your child’s credits will have future value. Public schools, in particular, are very leery of credits from non-regionally accredited schools, online or otherwise. A school will not keep its recognized accreditation a secret – legitimate schools are very proud of their ability to offer educational excellence that is recognized widely by others.
At Sterling Academy, our regional accreditation means students not only get a top-notch education, they can easily transfer their credits to a college or university or to another K-12 school. Likewise, a student transferring to Sterling Academy with credits from another regionally accredited school will find that their credits transfer easily.
As you search for the right school, keep in mind the importance of ensuring the school is accredited by a recognized – a “real” -- accreditation agency.