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Trade School Accreditation & State Authorization

By Publisher
| Last Updated May 16, 2024

Accreditation helps students and employers identify legitimate post-secondary schools and programs that meet acceptable quality standards. Getting your education through an institution that is accredited by a recognized agency is important for several reasons, including your eligibility for financial aid and occupational licensure or certification.

In the world of higher education and post-secondary vocational training, accreditation is a process aimed at providing confidence in the quality of schools and programs. Non-governmental agencies, known as accreditors or accrediting bodies, perform independent reviews of educational institutions' operations and services.

Schools that voluntarily meet or exceed accreditors' standards are granted accreditation for a specified number of years. Accreditation may be renewed or extended beyond that period if those schools continue to uphold the necessary standards.

In general, accreditation is different than state authorization. Many states have their own agencies that license, register, or certify post-secondary schools, giving them permission to operate. In some regions, it's possible for schools to be state-approved but not accredited.

There are three basic types of accreditation: regional, national, and specialized/programmatic. Many schools have just one type of accreditation, whereas others have multiple types.

Regional accreditors evaluate schools within a particular geographical area. National accreditors assess schools that may be located anywhere across the country. And specialized or programmatic accreditors review institutions or specific courses of study that award academic credentials for particular professions or occupational fields.

In addition, accreditors may be recognized or unrecognized. Schools that are accredited by recognized organizations are widely seen as legitimate. Those that are accredited by unrecognized agencies are often viewed less favorably. The two main bodies that recognize accrediting agencies in the U.S. are:

  • The U.S. Department of Education (ED): In order to qualify for federal financial aid, post-secondary students must be enrolled in schools or programs that are accredited by ED-recognized agencies.
  • The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA): This private organization recognizes certain accrediting bodies for the purpose of improving academic quality in post-secondary education. CHEA-recognized accreditors are seen as being academically legitimate.

What you'll find in this article:

Why Accreditation Is Important

celebrating student in graduation cap and gownCollege, university, and trade school students can maximize the benefits of their post-secondary education by choosing institutions that are accredited by ED- and CHEA-recognized agencies. Here's why accreditation can be so essential:

1. It can signal quality and legitimacy.

Students place a lot of trust in the schools they choose. They need to feel confident that the education or career training they receive is worth their investment of time and money. When they graduate, they need to know that potential employers will view their certificates, diplomas, or degrees as valid credentials.

Recognized accreditors help ensure that the schools they review maintain acceptable quality standards. In order to gain and keep accreditation, post-secondary institutions generally must:

  • Carry out a thorough self-evaluation process
  • Undergo independent peer reviews of student outcomes, school finances, program quality, and more
  • Agree to periodic site visits, which may be announced or unannounced

2. It provides accountability and encourages schools to keep improving.

Accredited colleges, universities, and vocational schools need to maintain satisfactory levels of quality. Otherwise, they risk having their accreditation suspended or terminated. That's how recognized accrediting bodies help keep schools accountable to the public. They serve as a form of consumer protection, minimizing fraud and exploitation in the post-secondary educational system.

In many cases, accreditors also champion continuous academic improvement. They often help schools set new goals and develop plans for achieving them.

3. It's required for federal financial aid and other forms of student assistance.

If you want access to federal student grants, loans, or work-study programs, your school must be accredited by an ED-recognized organization. Many private scholarships, state-funded aid programs, and employer tuition-reimbursement benefits also require enrollment in schools or programs that are accredited by ED- or CHEA-recognized bodies.

4. It often plays a major role in whether a school accepts transfer credits from a different institution.

Every post-secondary school sets its own policies regarding academic credits earned elsewhere. In many cases, students cannot transfer credits to their new schools unless their previous schools or programs are accredited by particular agencies.

For example, public colleges and universities frequently only accept undergraduate credits from other regionally accredited institutions. Many private career colleges and trade schools accept credits from a broader range of institutions, including those that are nationally accredited.

When it comes to credit transfers, there are no guarantees. Previously earned credits are often evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But accreditation typically plays a big part in the decision-making process.

5. It's often required for occupational licensing and/or professional certification.

Many occupations are regulated by state governments, which require people to gain licensure before working in their fields. Several professions are also overseen by independent certifying organizations. For some occupations, people need to earn independent certification as part of the state licensure process.

To qualify for state licensure and/or certifying exams in your chosen field, you may need to graduate from an institution or program that is accredited by an approved agency.

Regional Accreditors

The following organizations accredit many public and private colleges, universities, and vocational schools within the specific regions listed. Although it's a debated topic, many people hold the opinion that these accreditors oversee the highest, most stringent standards of quality.

Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Washington

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)

WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Various U.S. territories in the Pacific

National Accreditors

The independent agencies below are recognized by ED. They primarily accredit career-oriented institutions across the U.S., including trade schools, vocational colleges, technical institutes, and distance education providers.

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET)

Council on Occupational Education (COE)

Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)

Specialized and Programmatic Accreditors

ED and CHEA recognize a wide range of accrediting bodies in this category. Some of these accreditors review graduate schools for specific professions (such as law or medicine). And some review institutions or programs that provide education for other particular occupational fields or for a specific religion.

Since they generally accredit schools and/or courses of study throughout the U.S., these agencies may be considered specialized national accreditors. Here are some prominent examples that are recognized by ED and/or CHEA.

Health Care and Human Services




Arts and Design

Personal Care and Other Services

Faith-Related Education

State Authorization

Some states require all post-secondary schools to gain approval to operate. Others require only certain types of schools to gain authorization, such as private colleges, universities, and/or trade and technical schools. In many cases, authorization is essentially a special business license, although schools often need to meet certain minimum standards (including accreditation). Unlike accreditation, state approval alone isn't always a signal of quality. Here are the agencies that oversee post-secondary authorization in each state.









District of Columbia





















New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia



Many Accredited Trade Schools Offer Excellent Career Training

By choosing a vocational college or trade school that's accredited by a recognized agency, you (and potential employers) can have greater confidence in the quality of education you receive.