The Accreditation of Colleges and Universities © BRB Publications
Per the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the education records of students are not
public record unless used as general directory information. There must be consent to release records
containing personal information. However, what is very much public record is the accreditation of
Screening professionals place great importance on determining if a post-secondary college or university
granting a degree is accredited. This accreditation must be issued by an accredited organization –
Accreditor – that has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and/or the Council
for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). To be “recognized” means that an accrediting body must
meet the quality standards of these two respective organizations.
Schools may operate without accreditation, as long as a state grants the authority to operate. The
schools that operate without accreditation and without authority are generally known as “diploma
About the USDE and CHEA
The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) publishes a database of Postsecondary Educational
Institutions and Programs Accredited by Accrediting Agencies, and State Approval Agencies Recognized
by the U.S. Secretary of Education, available at www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation. The database lists
approximately 6,900 postsecondary institutions and programs, each accredited by an accrediting
organization recognized by the USDE.
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202
1-800-872-5327; Fax- 202-401-0689
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) searchable database includes accrediting bodies,
over 7,700 schools and more than 18,700 accredited programs. The search function is based on the
school name and includes geographical filters. See www.chea.org/search/default.asp.
Council for Higher Education Accreditation
One Dupont Circle NW, #510, Washington, DC 20036
Each accrediting organization’s list of institutions or programs is prefaced by a brief description of the
accredited status of the institutions or programs, and the year for which the list is accurate.
Some accrediting organizations and their institutions and programs appear in both the CHEA database
and the USDE database. Others may appear in one but not both. Whether in CHEA or USDE, accrediting
organizations identified in the database have been “recognized.”
The Accrediting Bodies
Generally, accrediting entities are of two types:
1. Regional Accreditors
2. Specialized or Program Accreditors
Specialized accreditors focus on topics – religion (ABET, for example), teaching (NCATE, for example),
or health, social work, music, etc.
Most U.S. institutions with liberal arts programs are accredited by one of six regional associations of
colleges and schools takes primary accrediting responsibility for the entire school. The list below
includes the name of the accrediting association, web address, the phone number, and the list of the
states or territories covered by the association. These are excellent resources should you have
questions about an institution in a particular state. All provide web look-ups of the institutions they
Regional Accrediting Associations
These organizations provide accreditation to an entire institution.
MSA (or MSACHE) Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. 215-662-5600,
www.middlestates.org. DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and locations abroad. MSA
higher education activities are carried out by two independently functioning commissions: The Middle
States Commission on Higher Education, 215-662-5606, www.msche.org and The Middle States
Commission on Secondary Schools, 215-662-5603, www.msa-cess.org that accredits institutions with
postsecondary, non-degree granting career and technology programs. Both may include institutions
that offer all or part of their educational programs via distance education modalities.
NEASC (NEACHE or NEASC CIHE) New England Association of Schools and Colleges, 781-271-0022,
www.neasc.org. CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT. Like the MSA, NEASC higher education activities are carried
out by two separate commissions: Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), 781-271-
0022, http://cihe.neasc.org/ and NEASC’s Commission on Technical and Career Institutions, 781-541-
NCACS The Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools,
www.northcentralassociation.org/ or www.ncacasi.org . Includes AZ, AR, CO, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN,
MO, NE, NM, ND, OH, OK, SD, WV, WI, WY, regional tribal institutions, and members’ distance
education programs. Like MSA and NEASC, NCACHE separates degree-granting institutions managed by
the Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC or NCACHE), 800-621-7440,
www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org, from trade-school/non-degree schools managed by the
Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI or NCACASI), 800-525-9517.
NASC or NWCCU, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, 425-558-4224,
www.nwccu.org. 425-558-4224, Includes AK, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, and member schools’ distance
education programs. Operating similar to the five other regional accrediting organizations recognized by
the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), NASC is the
seven-state Northwest region authority on educational quality and institutional effectiveness of higher
SACS or SACSCC – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges, 800-248-
7701, 404-679-4500, www.sacs.org. Includes AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, and
member schools’ distance education programs.
WASC (erroneously known as WACS) Western Association of Schools and Colleges: 510-748-9001,
www.wascweb.org. CA, HI, territories of Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia,
Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the Pacific Basin, and East Asia,
and areas of the Pacific and East Asia where American/International schools or colleges may apply to
WASC for service, also member schools’ distance education programs. WASC accredits colleges on
three levels. WASC Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities for senior colleges and universities,
510-748-9001, www.wascsenior.org; WASC-JR or WACSJC is the Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges for accrediting junior colleges, 415-506-0234, www.accjc.org/; and, WASC Accrediting
Commission for Schools for adult and postsecondary schools (and pre-college schools) that offer
programs below the degree level, 650-696-1060, www.acswasc.org/.
Specialized Accreditors Specialized or program accreditors provide accreditation to programs,
departments or schools that stand alone or may be part of an institution.
The U.S. Department of Education has an excellent web page that describes the various types of
specialized accreditors – from distance learning to healthcare – as well as giving an excellent overview
of the accreditation process. Go to www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html.
Below is a complimentary, useful but partial list of Specialized Accreditors.
ABHES – Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools – 703-917-9503, www.abhes.org, private,
postsecondary institutions offering predominantly allied health education programs.
ACCSC – Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges – 703- 247-4212, www.accsc.org,
private, postsecondary nondegree-granting and degree-granting institutions that are predominantly
organized to educate students for occupational, trade and technical careers, and includes institutions
that offer programs via distance education.
ACCET – Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training – 202-955-1113, www.accet.org,
institutions that offer continuing education and/or vocational programs conferring certificates or
occupational associate degrees, including those programs offered via distance education.
ACICS – Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools – 202-336-6780, www.acics.org,
schools with programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers,
including those institutions offering programs via distance education.
COE – Council on Occupational Education – 800-917-2081, www.council.org, postsecondary
occupational education institutions offering non-degree and applied associate degree programs in
specific career and technical education fields, including distance-education programs.
DETC – Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission – 202-234-5100,
www.detc.org, postsecondary institutions offering degree programs primarily by the distance education
method, up to and including professional doctoral degrees Some schools are specifically certified for
Title IV purposes.
TRACS – Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission – 434-
525-9539, www.tracs.org, postsecondary institutions that offer certificates, diplomas, associate,
baccalaureate, and/or graduate degrees, including members offering distance education.
About Diploma Mills
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary describes a diploma mill as:
A usually unregulated institution of higher education granting degrees with few or no academic
A diploma mill issues a paper diploma to a “student” (who can be a person, dog, cat, etc.) who performs
little or no actual study. Some mills offer degrees based on life experiences. Mills operating in the U.S. are
not authorized by a state licensing agency, such as the CA Department of Education, or an accrediting
body, such as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
There are some diploma mill factories so bold to provide a phone number or email address for students to
submit to employers or employment screeners to use for verifications. This contact point leads to a bogus
registrar’s office with a very convincing, fake registrar who will confirm the school’s existence and even
get uppity if you suggest there is fraud.
Identifying Diploma Mills and Unaccredited Schools
If you are a subscriber to the Public Record Research System, your subscription includes over 850 known
diploma mills highlighted within the look-up index of the schools and universities section.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provides an excellent overview about Degree Mills
There is no free, all encompassing list of diploma mills or unaccredited schools available free on the web,
but several states list of unaccredited schools particular to their state accreditation process.
Also, Hawaii lists 7 schools involved in lawsuits
The database maintained by this web page combines the above lists and has over 1,150 listed diploma
Two Incredible Resources
Based in Great Britain, Accredibase is the most powerful information and information database and service
about academic credential abuse and bogus colleges. This firm has ongoing collaboration worldwide with
government bodies, law enforcement agencies, and departments of education. In short, Accredibase is
the global leader on this subject and knows where the all 3,300 diploma mills are and who runs them. If
Accredibase says an entity is a mill, it is a mill.
2. Diploma Mills by Allen Ezell (retired FBI Agent) and John Bear, PHD.
This 466 page book ( Prometheus Books, 2012), experts Allen Ezell and John Bear go beyond exposing
these fraudulent practices to provide detailed recommendations—for government agencies, educational
institutions, and individuals—on what can be done to rid us of them. This eye-opening and definitive guide
shows how degree mills operate and how to check the validity of anyone’s degree—an indispensable
reference book. The Appendix includes a list of mills and a list of fake and unaccredited accrediting bodies.
(This book is available at the BRB Book Store.)
© BRB Publications. This text can not be distributed without the expressed permission of BRB Publications.