Cops are used to the term confirmation. In law enforcement it can pertain to many things, usually confirming arrest warrants, target locations for a raid, intelligence or maybe just your duty schedule. Early in your career as a rookie officer you most certainly heard the phrase, In God We Trust, everyone else we run through NCIC. When your profession necessitates being surrounded daily by thieves, and crooks that habitually lie you learn to live your life suspiciously and strive to confirm just about anything before making decisions. We become professionally paranoid.
When deciding to pursue a degree or finish one, your investigative intuition, developed after years of working cases, pays off as you start recognizing that no two schools are alike. On the surface their websites may look roughly the same, academic programs parallel, and faculty seemingly experienced, but similar to any criminal case, what lurks below the surface is what matters. Knowing what questions to ask will quickly help you determine what colleges or universities you should further investigate and which ones you should quickly abandon.
It is simply confirmation. The academic standards, curriculum, the value of your degree is confirmed by an educational peer group that says, Yes, the degree earned is valid, real, and true. Accreditation in the U.S. for colleges and universities is largely privately run with little government oversight. In other countries the government, either national or regional, validates the degree. Here in the States, numerous private, non-profit, organizations do peer reviews of academic programming and institutions to determine their value as it relates to their peer institutions.
Unlike the accreditation process of police agencies where there is one dominant organization doing the review (The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, or CALEA), for example, colleges, universities, and their programs can have multiple organizations that offer accreditation. For the prospective student, the following are general classifications -
- Traditional - For those you seeking to finish your B.A. or B.S (or even Masters and Doctorates) regional accreditation is the cornerstone of approval the institution you are interested in needs to have. If they are not regionally accredited, use extreme caution as you continue to investigate. There are six regional accreditation bodies and the areas they govern divide the nation (think of compass settings; North, South, East, West, and Central) and it does not matter if the institution has a physical campus, online or a combination of the two. Within business and industry, those who possess a college degree that is not regionally accredited is often viewed as not having a valid degree. It simply doesn't count in their eyes.
- Technical - Some private colleges or universities that offer technical training may or may not have regional accreditation, but most certainly have their own accreditation through member organizations focusing solely on them. For instance, Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges, and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology are arguably the largest, along with the Distance Education and Training Council.
It's important to note here is that if you were to earn an Associates Degree in Computer Science from a school with this type of accreditation, for instance, and sought to transfer to a university having regional accreditation then your A.A.S. in Computer Science degree may not transfer and your earned credit hours, time and money is wasted. The "receiving institution" makes the sole determination of whether or not to accept your degree. Remember, as stated in the first article of this series, that all higher education is for profit. The longer you can be committed to taking classes the more money is made by the organization.
- Others - The list is huge. Be aware that as new colleges and universities seem to pop up everywhere while it appears that new accrediting agencies also arrive on the scene to validate what is taught. That is not to say that all others not mentioned are not legitimate, but exercise due diligence and seek answers to how long has an institution (either college or accrediting body) been in existence and where do their credits transfer by established agreement. The federal government involvement in accreditation, although minimal when compared to others, initially started in the aftermath of the Korean War when huge numbers of returning veterans (WW2 included) started using their earned GI Bill to pursue an education. As you may have guessed, colleges started popping up everywhere. Fraud entered the scene and the government tried to account for where it’s tax dollars were being spent. What this should mean to you is that it has been recognized by at least the federal government for nearly 60 years there has been problems with "degree granting institutions" offering degrees that may not be credible. It pays to investigate.
Understanding the purpose, scope and value that the varying accrediting bodies have on college and university programming is undeniably essential. However, it's one part of the whole. In the next installment, you will find out what other vital services are needed for police officers, and other adult learners, in order to be successful in earning your college degree.