In the United States accreditation is not a government process. It is the system used in the U.S. to determine if institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of educational quality. It is a voluntary process that an educational institution elects to go through which, upon successful completion, grants a stamp of approval to the educational institution from one of the many private non-governmental accrediting agencies. Educational institutions that have been awarded accreditation have met a set of criteria imposed by the accrediting body.

In the U.S. there are two types or levels of accreditation: Regional and Professional.

There are six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting institutions of higher education within their regional boundaries and one relevant national accrediting agency (The Distance Education and Training Council- Regional accreditation looks at the educational institution as a whole. Students from Switzerland should choose a regionally accredited college or university when selecting an educational institution in the US.

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools – MSA
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges – NASC
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools – NCA
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

In addition to regional accreditation, which reviews the educational institution as a whole, professional or specialized accreditation accredits professional and or specialized degree programs or departments. Such programs are offered often, but not always, at institutions that already have regional accreditation. An accrediting organization is considered a recognized accrediting body if it is a member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).

Professional accreditation exists in fields where the professional competence is of major concern such as health care fields, business, engineering, etc. The importance of professional accreditation varies from field to field. Not all majors have professional accreditation. To check if your major does check both the CHEA and ASPA web sites.

It is important that Swiss students who wish to use the degree earned in the United States to continue with higher education studies in Switzerland or to use the degree for employment purposes be certain that the degree will be accepted in Switzerland.

A diploma mill, according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless.

Diploma mills or degree mills are substandard or fake educational institutions that offer students degrees with little or no serious work. Some such schools are simple frauds with only a mailbox address where prospective students send for a paper that is supposed to be a college degree. Others require some nominal work for students but the work does is not of the level that would normally be required for a college degree. Often unsuspecting students, who do not understand the US educational system will be duped by diploma mill or degree mill schools. With the ever expanding internet, there are more and more diploma mill or degree mill schools found on the web.

How can you tell if a school is a degree mill or not? Legitimate institutions offering colleges degrees for credit are accredited by one of the federally recognized accrediting agencies. To be a federally recognized agency the accrediting agency must be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Research the accreditation status of the school you are interested in before you enroll. Credit and degrees earned at accredited institutions will, in most cases, be recognized by all other accredited schools and employers. Not all unaccredited colleges are degree mills in the traditional sense of the word as some provide legitimate academic work. However, credit and degrees earned at non-accredited institutions will probably not be recognized by other educational institutions or employers.

Federal Trade Commission
How to spot fraudulent scholarship organizations. Provides six tell tale lines that should make students suspicious and cautious. Also provides a list of organizations that are currently defendants in scholarship fraud.

Regional Accreditation Organizations
Council for Higher Education Accreditation Directories, links to regional accrediting agencies.

Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors

Rektors Conference of Swiss Universities (CRUS)