Understanding The Higher Learning Commission Accreditation: An Easy Guide

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Introduction to Accreditation

Understanding the Higher Learning Commission can be confusing but it is very important. There are thousands of higher learning institutions in the United States. Accreditation ensures that the institution’s academic offering aligns with industry standards.

The two main accreditation types are Regional and National. Regional Accreditation is known as the most prestigious accreditation colleges and universities receive. Each U.S. region has its own accrediting body.

The Higher Learning Commission is one of the six accrediting agencies. HLC focuses on evaluating higher learning institutions in the North Central region. This includes the states of Minnesota and Arizona.

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Why Accreditation Matters

“National vs. Regional Accreditation: Which accreditation is best?” The answer is a case-on-case basis despite regional accreditation being the gold standard.

When choosing between regional vs national accreditation, it’s important to consider your personal goals. Both accreditations have their merits.

  • Regionally accredited meaning: The institution was evaluated as a whole. This typically applies to four-year and graduate schools.
  • Nationally accredited meaning: The specific program has been assessed. This applies to career-focused or trade schools and religious institutions.

There are several benefits of attending an accredited college. After all, it is the standard. Benefits include:

  • Employers will not question your education.
  • Easier transfer credit process.
  • Access to federal aid, grants, and loans, reducing the risk of aid ineligibility.
  • More options for pursuing advanced degrees.
  • Enhance job prospects.

What is the Higher Learning Commission?

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is authorized by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to accredit educational institutions within the North Central region.

The Higher Learning Commission’s goal in its accreditation process is to improve the quality of higher education. HLC accreditation serves as a seal of quality and a measure of responsibility. It is an important way for educational institutions to gauge where they are in that respect. Consequently, they will improve their performance consistently.

Ensuring College Worth: The Accreditation Process

The Higher Learning Commission guarantees the credibility of accredited institutions through thorough evaluation standards and procedures. Institutions will do a self-study of their overall effectiveness. This includes the following elements:

  • Mission
  • Goals
  • Educational programs
  • Services
  • faculty qualifications
  • Resources
  • Governance structure

If the institution thinks that its effectiveness is in line with the HLC, it’ll submit a report. This report serves as the primary documentation submitted to the accrediting agency. After review, HLC will send a team to conduct on-site visits.

The process of getting accredited usually takes years. The panel will review both the report and the team’s findings.

HLC assesses institutions based on the following five criteria:

  • Mission
    • The mission must be public & operationalized.
    • It should include diverse, multicultural & global world initiatives.
  • Integrity: Ethical & Responsible Conduct
    • The institution should be dedicated to promoting academic freedom and truth.
    • The institution should practice responsible knowledge acquisition.
  • Teaching & Learning: Quality, Resources, & Support
    • Should be academically rigorous, engaging students in diverse programs.
    • The faculty and staff should demonstrate high-quality services and resources for effective teaching.
  • Teaching & Learning: Evaluation & Improvement
    • The institution is actively assessing student learning and improving educational outcomes.
  • Institutional Effectiveness, Resources & Planning
    • The institution is committed to maintaining systematic and integrated planning and improvement.

Identifying Accredited Colleges

It’s easy to claim accreditation. In fact, many diploma mills have successfully done so in the past. It’s important to always look beyond the surface when looking for accreditation. Once you fail to verify the institution’s accreditation status, you open yourself up to the risk of wasted time and money.

How can you confirm an online school’s accreditation status?

  1. Check the School’s Website.
  2. Accredited colleges and universities often have links to accreditation details on their home pages.
  3. Go to the Accreditation Agency’s Website.
  4. This is the most effective way to ensure that the school is accredited. Visit the accrediting agency’s official website and scan its database of member schools and programs.
  5. Verify the Accreditor’s Legitimacy.
  6. Diploma mills create a website for a fake accreditation agency. Check the CHEA’s list and the ED’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

There are some red flags you need to watch out for:

  • Degree awarded solely based on prior experience without coursework.
  • Academic credit is awarded without official transcripts.
  • Lack of recognition from other schools or employers in the region.
  • Pending accreditation status without an estimated finalization date.
  • Similar name or website to a known accredited school.
  • Unclear faculty credentials or attendance at unaccredited schools.
  • Incredibly high or low tuition rates.
  • Aggressive marketing stunts.
  • Lack of address for campus or offices on the website.

Making Informed Choices: Why Accreditation Should Influence Your College Decision

When it comes to selecting a college or university, regional accreditation vs national accreditation is a top debate. So, what accreditation should a university have?

The right accreditation will depend on your planned career trajectory. Understanding the differences should help you make an informed decision.

Pursue a regionally accredited institution if you want to pursue:

  • graduate school
  • research-based positions
  • careers that require passing board exams

On the other hand, nationally accredited institutions will best suit you if your plan includes the following:

  • entry into vocational or technical fields
  • career paths emphasizing practical skills over academic research
  • work in industries like cosmetology, culinary arts, or trade professions

Maximizing Financial Investment: Accreditation and Tuition Paying Tips

There are more things you need to consider beyond accreditation to ensure great ROI.

  1. Choose a relevant field.

When choosing a college degree, it’s important to consider your passion. The program should align with your interests, skills, and aspirations. ROI goes beyond monetary gain; it also entails personal fulfillment and job satisfaction.

  1. Choose a college within your financial means.

Learning in accredited higher education institutions is not cheap. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to enroll in a program that costs a fortune just because they’re highly ranked. Doing so will take a long time to cover the costs. You’ll find yourself buried in student loans even before earning the degree. It’s just not worth it.

  1. Understand the cost of attendance.

Many students mistake sticker prices for the actual cost of attendance. You must thoroughly understand the breakdown of costs, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other expenses.

  1. Carefully plan how you’ll pay for college.

Planning how to pay for college is crucial for maximizing your financial investment. You must maximize all possible financial aid that comes with attending an accredited institution. Seek financial assistance from the government, institutions, and the community.

Beyond financial aid, you can also maximize tuition payment plans. This allows you to pay your tuition in installments. They’re often without additional fees, just as long as you pay on time.

  1. Pursue graduate school.

Earning a master’s degree is often the best way to maximize the value of your four-year degree. Do some soul-searching and consider whether a master’s program is the best option for you.

Scholarship and Financial Aid Opportunities at Accredited Colleges

Accredited colleges and universities offer many financial aid options to different types of students. Here are the main types of aid available:


The two types of scholarships are need-based and merit-based. They’re provided by government, public, private, and academic institutions.

Federal Grants

Federal grants are non-repayable financial aid from the federal government. They fund four-year colleges, community colleges, and accredited career programs.

State, Local, and Institutional Grants

State, local, and individual institutions also award grants, which, like federal grants, typically don’t require repayment.

Federal Work-Study

This government program enables college students to work part-time while studying, allowing them to earn wages capped at their Work-Study award.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are borrowed money and must be repaid within a specific period, often with interest. This aid should be used only when you’ve exhausted other gift aids.

Even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid, don’t skip filling out the FAFSA form. Federal student aid isn’t solely based on income, so you might still be eligible for assistance.

Take the time to complete the FAFSA to explore all potential avenues for financial support. These serve as great avenues for increased ROI.

Conclusion: Empowering Your College Journey

Students should never forget the importance The Higher Learning Commission because accreditation plays a pivotal role in deciding which college to attend. You must only pursue properly accredited programs to ensure a high-quality education and return on investment.

Many diploma mills have successfully tricked students into believing they’re accredited. You must always double-check a program or institution’s accreditation. You can do this by visiting CHEA’s list of approved accrediting bodies.