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Can I transfer credits or a degree from a nationally accredited college to a regionally accredited college or university? Probably not…but possibly.
We have to admit right up front that transferring credits or degrees from a nationally accredited program to a regionally accredited program is pretty hard, maybe even impossible.
We’ll do our best to help you navigate an admittedly difficult process, whether you’re considering a nationally accredited school or you’re already the owner of credits or a degree from a nationally accredited college.
But first, a quick recap on national vs regional accreditation:
National vs Regional Accreditation
National Accreditation agencies are educational accreditors that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria, which makes it a particularly well-suited model of accreditation for online colleges serving multiple regions or geographically widespread populations.
All nationally accredited colleges or universities — whether operating on for-profit or nonprofit models — are privately owned. In order to qualify as a true national accreditor, an agency must be recognized by both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
As with regional accreditation, colleges who have attained national accreditation have met certain criteria relating to quality, performance, and other key indicators. These indicators will differ for each national accreditor. Consult each individual accreditation agency to learn more about the metrics used to award national accreditation, as well as to identify those colleges, universities, and institutions that have met these stipulations.
The Difference Between National and Regional Accreditation
It’s also important that we understand the core distinctions between national accreditation and regional accreditation.
There are a few. On the surface, the core difference is that national accreditation can apply to colleges and universities all over the country. By contrast, each regional accreditor is typically bound to a single region.
This distinction in jurisdictions is important when it comes to the subject of online college becasuse regional accreditation is seen as the gold standard in accreditation and is the distinction that matters most on the subject of transferring credits.
Most regionally-accredited colleges consider this distinction a critical one, and do no accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation.
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Transferring Credits from Nationally to Regionally Accredited Schools
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) — recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) —& offers a few resources advocating for and advising on how best to improve your chances of transferring credits from a nationally accredited institution to a regionally accredited institution.
The ACICS points out that there are a number of factors that dictate whether or not credits can be transferred. In fact, says ACICS, an array of conditions can impact your ability to transfer credits of any kind, be they regionally accredited, nationally accredited, or non-accredited.
These conditions may include:
- Individual college and university rules
- State by state rules
- Residency requirements including a minimum number of credits to be completed at a receiving institution in order to earn a degree
- Alignment of course content between transferring and receiving college
- Alignment of academic level (i.e. availability of associate, bachelor’s and master’s level courses)
- Individual academic performance
- Educational quality of transferring institution, typically dictated by accreditation from an institution (regional or national) that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
These factors can complicate the transfer process regardless of accreditation. The complexity is usually greater if you’re looking to transfer credits or a degree from a nationally accredited college.
What if I already have credits or a degree from a nationally accredited college?
If you’re already enrolled in a nationally accredited program, approaching completion, or already have a degree but you’re interested in transferring to a regionally accredited college or university, of course the big question is, will your credits transfer to your new school?
On the surface, the answer is, probably not. This is especially true if you are considering a highly regarded or selective public or private non-profit university. Top regionally accredited institutions are unlikely to even consider credits from a program without regional accreditation. The standard transfer application process will not provide any obvious paths to transferring the credits or credentials you’ve earned in your nationally accredited program.
Options for Students
Start from scratch
If you aren’t too deep into your program, you could certainly just cut your losses and get started on a regionally accredited degree program. Not to discredit your current program, but if you do plan to ultimately pursue a regionally accredited degree, you could save yourself a lot of hassle by making the transition sooner than later.
Search for exceptions to the rule
There are some regionally accredited colleges or universities that will make exceptions for nationally-accredited credits or degrees. These are rarely among the most reputable or selective colleges. In some instances, these may be colleges that have earned regional accreditation but which operate using a for-profit model.
The for-profit sector of higher education does offer some viable educational options — particularly in the areas of technical training, professional certification and online master’s degrees. However, the for-profit model has also lent itself to deceptive recruitment tactics, poor product quality, and shady, fly-by-night organizational structure. You will need to approach this option with caution.
That said, there are some for-profit colleges with regional accreditation that may be willing to recognize a portion of the credits you’ve earned as a student at a nationally accredited institution. If so, it will usually be according to the stipulation that the national accreditation in question is recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. Moreover, if you are transferring into a program that awards Associate Degrees and Bachelor’s Degrees, it will likely be required that your nationally accredited program also awarded Associate and Bachelor’s degrees.
If your national accreditation meets these conditions, it may be possible to transfer some portion of your credits to your new regionally accredited school. But, again, if you plan to go this route, it is absolutely essential that you shop with caution. The for-profit educational landscape is rocky, to be certain. While for-profit institutions like Phoenix University have gained a modicum of credibility, others like Corinthian College and Trump University demonstrate the permeation of fraud and bankruptcy in this higher education sub-sector.
So in the event that a for-profit college is your best bet for capitalizing on existing credits from a nationally accredited program while advancing toward a regional degree, take all the proper precautions by consulting our Guide to For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
File an appeal
Though there are rules which dictate whether a school can or will accept your transfer credits, these rules can vary considerably based on factors like state of school, state of residence, chosen discipline, and even your own academic performance.
According to the ACICS, “The decision on whether or not to accept your academic credit could be made by the chairperson of the department, a faculty transcript review committee, an individual faculty member, an admissions officer or other college official. Factors that affect the willingness to accept academic credit in transfer may be in the institution’s catalog.”
This means that you will have the ability, in some cases, to file an appeal to any decision rejecting your transfer credits. And while most colleges or universities will have their own process for reviewing and considering appeals, it will give you an opportunity to present your case. Begin by reaching out to the receiving college or university and asking for a copy of the school’s existing appeals process.
The ACICS advises that anybody filing an appeal invoke the standards established by the CHEA, and endorsed by all regional accrediting agencies, indicating that “transfer decisions are not made solely on the source of accreditation of a sending program or institution.”
Of course, it is the independent prerogative of each college or university to make transfer decisions according to its own standards. But you can still invoke the CHEA’s position in your appeal. The ACICS recommends advising the receiving institution that, “CHEA publishes a ‘Joint Statement on Transfer and Award of Academic Credit’ which recommends that quality, comparability, appropriateness and applicability be applied when considering transfer of credit.”
So yes, it is technically not impossible to transfer your nationally accredited credits to a regionally accredited program, but it will most certainly be an uphill climb, and one that includes more bureaucratic hurdles than the average transfer process.
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