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  • Writer's pictureSteven Lee

Roadblock! Accreditation

Often times, the question of whether or not a school is accredited arises within discussions of credit transfers. For instance, many students begin their post-secondary education at a community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year institution after completing "the basics." The concern for accreditation within this context is that the four-year college or university may only accept credits from an accredited school. A second concern surrounds online schools and whether they possess the appropriate accreditation, where "appropriate" means the student's employer will pay the tuition bill or a professional organization will permit those courses to fulfill the education requirement prior to licensure.

Both of these are reasonable causes to conduct research on a prospective school. Yet, as I recently learned, there is a third: faculty jobs. It may come as a surprise to some (as it did me) that there are not only different accrediting bodies but also different types of accreditation, namely three: regional; national; and special.

Regional Accreditation

This link provides an excellent view of the different regional accrediting bodies and the states they cover. The short version is that regional accreditation is considered the gold standard because curricula are more standardized, credits from these schools are accepted by other regions as well as nationally accredited institutions, and nearly all courses are instructor-led (as opposed to "self-study" programs).

National Accreditation

By contrast, nationally-accredited schools are often less expensive and are more geared towards specific occupations or vocations. You can read-up on the key differences between regional and national accreditation as well as the different national accrediting bodies here. It can be challenging arranging transfer of credits from a national school to a regional one, however, so one should map-out the desired educational track well in advance to ensure an accurate timeline to degree.

Special or Programmatic Accreditation

Unbeknownst to many (myself included--until recently), there is also special accreditation. This is another layer in addition to either regional or national accreditation. Specific schools within a university (such as medical, architecture, legal, etc.) may hold the respective accreditation. In my particular case, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the governing body of business schools often found within larger university systems. As I recently learned, regional accreditation alone may be insufficient for me to secure a faculty job within a business school down the road. This is something that is fairly easy to miss when reviewing job advertisements, but if you read carefully, you will find it nestled among other requirements, which often attract greater attention such as publication record, teaching evaluations, letters of reference, etc.

So, what to do if your terminal degree is not from a school with the specific accreditation? It seems there may be ways to navigate this difficulty, but it is largely up to the target institution to which you are applying. First, you may be able to publish or teach your way up. Think of this as interpreting "recommended" to "required." Certain positions, even at the assistant rank, expect publications or at least "recommend" publication potential. If your degree isn't backed by the appropriate accrediting authority, you should publish a couple of articles first before applying. Similarly, "evidence of teaching excellence" means you must have glowing teaching reviews--either peer reviews from a department chair or outstanding teaching evaluations. Second, bring something else extraordinary not even mentioned in the job ad. An example of this (depending on the department or school) is grant money. If you are able to bring funding to the institution, it is possible the department there will figure out a way to secure your employment despite not having the right credentials.

The bottom line is you must present yourself not just as a unique candidate; You must make an overwhelming case for the committee to hire you. This is true in general but even more so when something like an accreditation issue stands in your way by casting doubt on your pedigree. The road to job-hood is paved with many difficulties, many of which can be surmounted.

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