What Is Regional Accreditation?

Erin TrederASO Staff Writers
Updated September 20, 2023
Edited by
Your Future is Waiting

Explore and compare a list of accredited schools to enroll in your next program.

Person in college

Regional accreditation is a process in which independent accrediting agencies regulate and monitor colleges’ academic quality. Schools voluntarily choose to have regional accreditors assess their academic programs and student outcomes to ensure they meet certain quality standards.

Regional accreditation is a type of institutional accreditation. But how does the process work exactly? And how important is it to attend a regionally accredited college?

How Does Regional Accreditation Work?

Regional accreditation is when a recognized accrediting agency assesses a college or university’s overall academic quality. Regional accreditors evaluate a school’s curriculum, graduation and retention rates, and faculty credentials.

A regionally accredited school has met high standards for quality and ensures that students receive a solid education.

Unlike programmatic accreditation, which is for individual academic programs within an institution, regional accreditation applies to entire schools.

The U.S. currently has seven regional accreditors:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Regional accreditors must be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education.

Regional vs. National Accreditation: What’s the Difference?

Regional accreditation has historically been considered more prestigious than national accreditation. This is because regional accreditation typically entails a more rigorous evaluation process and is more difficult for schools to achieve.

Regionally accredited schools are perceived to have a more selective admissions process.

In the past, regional accreditors were bound to specific U.S. regions (hence the name). As of 2020, however, these accreditors can operate nationally, just like national accreditors.

This means there is no longer a formal distinction between regional and national accreditors — both are now simply known as “institutional accreditors.”

Still, there are a few major differences between regional and national accreditation:

Accreditation Type Comparison
Regional AccreditationNational Accreditation
  • Regional accreditors can choose to operate regionally or nationally.
  • Credits earned from regionally accredited schools easily transfer to other regionally accredited schools.
  • Most regionally accredited schools are nonprofit public and private institutions.
  • National accreditors can operate anywhere in the country.
  • Credits might be difficult to transfer to regionally accredited schools.
  • Nationally accredited schools are usually for-profit institutions that focus on religious studies, trades, or vocations.

Check Out Our Featured Schools


Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

List of Regional Accreditation Agencies

The following map shows the general regions in which regional accreditors operate. While geographical restrictions no longer apply, regional accreditors still do most of their accrediting in those areas.

A detailed list of regional accreditors follows below.

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges arrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: American Samoa, California, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau

ACCJC is the only regional U.S. accrediting agency to exclusively recognize two-year colleges.

Accreditation criteria focuses on a school’s ability to create and fulfill its mission statement. Requirements also emphasize the general integrity of the school, from its financial office to its academics. Online programs must be substantially equivalent to on-campus programs.

Higher Learning Commissionarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

HLC, which historically served the central U.S., focuses on an accredited school’s commitment to continued improvement. Additionally, the institution must be able to demonstrate dedication to equality, diversity, and the public good.

Middle States Commission on Higher Educationarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

MSCHE’s criteria for accreditation emphasizes financial and operational transparency, meaning an institution must release information to the public about how it functions.

In order to be considered for MSCHE accreditation, schools must provide rigorous curricula for all students, regardless of the field or program type. Instructors must also be held to a high standard, and students should have resources for professional development.

New England Commission of Higher Educationarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont

NECHE is led by around 30 people who are elected by member institutions in three-year terms. The organization’s accreditation standards focus on a prospective school’s ability to fulfill its stated purpose or mission.

Typically, the Commission decides to grant or deny accreditation after five years of candidacy. All standards must be met in some shape or form for an institution to become accredited.

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universitiesarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington

NWCCU’s criteria for accreditation strongly emphasizes peer review and comparison. This means the organization actively compares prospective schools with fully accredited schools in order to decide whether the new school qualifies for accreditation.

NWCCU also judges institutions on their mission statements and core values. It looks at how effectively schools achieve these goals in the classroom, on campus, and in their communities.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Collegesarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

SACSCOC’s standards for accreditation focus on integrity, administrative processes, and academic success. Member schools must constantly work to improve their programs, services, and student achievement.

SACSCOC maintains strict requirements for accrediting schools with online programs. Most importantly, the Commission requires that schools assure student achievement and satisfaction are equal between on-campus and online courses.

WASC Senior College and University Commissionarrow-circle-right

Areas historically served: American Samoa, California, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau

Many of WSCUC’s standards and core values for accreditation require schools to commit to constantly improving their academic programs and teaching methods.

Additionally, schools should aim to serve the public good through either their graduates or direct involvement in the community.

Does Regional Accreditation Actually Matter?

If you want a traditional undergraduate education, a regionally accredited college or university is likely the best choice for you. These schools are typically more widely recognized and considered more prestigious than their nationally accredited counterparts.

You’ll also have greater eligibility for federal financial aid if you attend a nationally or regionally accredited school. You won’t be eligible for federal aid at all if your school is unaccredited.

A regionally accredited school is also a good choice if you plan to transfer schools at some point. Most regionally accredited schools readily accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited institutions.

Finally, graduate schools and employers tend to view regionally accredited schools more favorably because they’re usually more selective in their admissions processes and more focused on academia.

Many graduate school schools require you to have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school. If possible, prioritize regionally accredited colleges over nationally accredited schools during your college search, especially if you plan to earn a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

Next Steps

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.