Trade School Accreditation & State Authorization
By Luke Redd
| Last Updated November 25, 2020
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.
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.
According to the most recently available data, about 5,370 institutions are accredited by ED-recognized organizations. Of those schools, roughly 53 percent have regional accreditation, almost 22 percent have national accreditation, and 23.5 percent have been accredited through specialized or programmatic agencies.
What you'll find in this article:
Why Accreditation Is Important
College, 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.
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.
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Various U.S. territories in the Pacific
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.
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
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
- Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE)
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (CERT)
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
- Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
- Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE)
Arts and Design
- American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEFAC)
- Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
Personal Care and Other Services
- American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE)
- Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
- Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
- National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS)
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
- Mississippi Commission on Proprietary School and College Registration
- Mississippi Commission on College Accreditation
- New Hampshire Department of Education, Division of Educator Support and Higher Education
- Washington Student Achievement Council
- Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board
- West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education
- West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
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.