Frequently Asked Questions

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About Accreditation

The goal of accreditation is to assure students, as well as parents and employers, that a college or university provides a quality educational experience.

Accreditors develop their own standards, or criteria for accreditation, and regularly conduct evaluations to assess whether those criteria are being met. Institutions and/or programs that meet an accreditor's criteria may become "accredited" after a process of evaluation called “candidacy.”

Accreditation provides current and potential students assurance that they are receiving a quality education which will be recognized as such by potential employers or licensing boards as well as by other colleges or universities in case of student transfers or pursuit of a higher degree. Also, employer-paid tuition reimbursement programs often require that employee participants enroll in accredited institutions.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes accreditation as a marker to allow the institution to disperse federal (Title IV) student financial aid.

There are institutional accrediting agencies, such as HLC, that look at the college or university as a whole. And there are programmatic or specialized accrediting agencies that focus only on specific academic programs. Colleges and universities can have multiple accreditations. The U.S. Department of Education has a list of recognized accrediting agencies.

For many years, HLC was recognized as a regional accreditor by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). However, in 2020 the USDE removed the distinction between regional and national accreditors, and now categorizes both types of agencies as institutional accreditors. The USDE also removed the limitation on regional accreditors’ geographic scope. As a result, HLC today is recognized as an institutional accreditor with authority to accredit colleges and universities throughout the United States.

HLC is a private not-for-profit company that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to act on its behalf as an institutional accrediting agency. Higher education is overseen by the “Triad,” which is made up of an accrediting body such as HLC, a state’s higher education regulatory agency and the U.S. Department of Education, each with a distinct role in higher education oversight.

For Students

The HLC website provides a search tool to find institutions accredited by HLC, including formerly accredited or closed colleges and universities. An additional institutional directory tool, especially if the accrediting agency is unknown, can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website.

HLC can provide an official letter to verify past or current accreditation for any HLC member college or university. Requests for a letter can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

No. During the candidacy stage, a college or university is not accredited. The institution has to demonstrate through its candidacy period that it meets HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. Then the institution may become accredited.

HLC policy does not allow for retroactive accreditation of a college or university.

A course completed, or a degree earned, from an accredited institution remains accredited regardless of what happens to the institution at a later date. HLC’s Directory of Institutions includes all colleges and universities that have held status with HLC, so past accreditation dates can be verified.

HLC does not handle or keep any college transcripts. However, a college’s records, including transcripts, are generally kept and maintained after a closure. State agencies handling higher education matters are generally the best place to go when seeking information on closed schools and their records.

An institution’s accreditation will generally encompass all methods of delivery, though approval is sometimes needed before an institution can offer distance education.

Each institution determines its own policies and procedures for accepting transfer credits. HLC expects institutions to have clear policies on transfer of credit. Questions about the transferability of credits should be directed to the institution that the student is interested in attending.

A college or university that is on sanction is still accredited. In most cases, other colleges and universities will continue to accept the institution’s credits in transfer or for admission to a degree program while it is on a sanction. However, all colleges and universities define their own transfer and admission policies. So, students interested in pursuing another degree or transferring should contact the college or university they plan to attend so that they are knowledgeable about their admission and transfer policies.

The Higher Learning Commission does not rank or categorize schools. HLC evaluates an entire educational institution in terms of its mission and our Criteria for Accreditation. Besides assessing formal educational activities, it evaluates such things as governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student services, institutional resources, student learning, institutional effectiveness, and relationships with internal and external constituencies.

Institutions set their own rules regarding faculty qualifications. However, HLC does have guidelines regarding faculty-teaching requirements. These guidelines apply to all faculty members whose primary responsibility is teaching, including part-time, adjunct, dual credit, temporary and/or non-tenure-track faculty.

HLC expects dual-credit courses to offer college-level work. While it is up to the institution itself to determine qualifications for dual-credit teaching, HLC provides guidelines regarding dual credit courses and programs.

Questions regarding licensure should be directed to the agency or state that would be granting a professional license.

HLC is not able to provide recommendations to students. A directory of HLC’s member institutions is available.

The U.S. Department of Education publishes a College Scorecard, which allows students to search and compare colleges: their fields of study, costs, admissions, results, and more.