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What is accreditation and why is it important?

What is accreditation?
Accreditation is an external peer review process of an institution (regional accreditation) or of a specific degree program (program accreditation) by qualified accrediting bodies that the U.S. Department of Education designates to ensure standards of learning are attained. 
Accreditation criteria reviews financial stability of the institution or program, attainment of specific standards reflecting continuous quality and improvement in education, and assessment of outcomes achieved to measure if stated learning objectives are actually reached.
Regional certification also reviews delivery of degree programs via distance and online education and will provide accreditation based upon the same quality standards. This means that the diploma earned online is the exact same diploma earned by someone taking courses on the campus. In these situations, the online student is enrolled in the same class, completes similiar homework assignments, takes comparable exams, and is held to the same academic standards as the on-campus student.
Why is accreditation important?
Accreditation reflects the quality by which an educational institution or a program conducts its business. It speaks to a sense of public trust, or 'truth in advertising', as well as to professional quality. For adult learners and corporations that fund professional development, accreditation provides assurance that the program in which you are enrolled is engaged in continuous review and improvement of its quality, that it meets nationally-recognized standards in that discipline, and that there is public accountability on both program and institution levels for achieving what it sets out to do.
See a List of Online UC Member & Participant Accreditations