Regional Accreditation vs. National Accreditation

Regionally accredited institutions are predominantly academically-oriented, non-profit or state-owned institutions. Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit. National accreditation is used in the non-profit sector for specific programs, such as nursing.

Every college has the right to set standards and refuse to accept transfer credits. If a student has attended a school that is not regionally accredited, it may be difficult or impossible to have the credits, or even the degree earned, recognized by a regionally-accredited college (or an employer). A 2005 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, in making decisions on credit transfer, about 84 percent of U.S. higher education institutions considered whether the sending institution is accredited, and many had policies stating that they would accept credits only from regionally accredited institutions. About 63 percent of institutions told the GAO that they would accept credit from any regionally accredited institution, but only 14 percent similarly accepted credits from nationally accredited schools. Regional institutions are reluctant to accept credits from nationally accredited institutions due, in part, to national accreditors' less stringent standards for criteria such as faculty qualifications and library resources. Students who anticipate transferring credits from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited one are advised to verify that the regionally accredited school will accept the credits before they enroll in the nationally accredited one.

In general, the names of U.S. post-secondary institutions and their degree titles do not indicate whether the institution is accredited or the type of accreditation it holds. Rules on this topic vary from state to state. Regulations of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission require that post-secondary institutions in the state of Tennessee must be regionally accredited to use the word "university" in their names, and that a school lacking regional accreditation may not use the word "college" in its name without adding a qualifier such as "career", "vocational", "business", "technical", "art", "Bible", or "Christian". Tennessee rules also specify that only regionally accredited schools can issue "liberal arts" degrees or degree titles such as Associate of Arts or Science and Bachelor of Arts or Science.