Accreditation for Criminal Justice Colleges and Universities

University and college accreditation offering Criminal Justice degree programs online, or at a traditional campus, is one of the most important steps in your research of universities and colleges. Don’t take take this step lightly, as it may cost you tens of thousands of dollars and your precious time. Your hard earned diploma may be worthless or worth little if the school you are going to is not properly accredited. This may be detrimental to your career seeking and advancement efforts, or in your pursuit of graduate studies.

The goal of accreditation

The purpose of accreditation is to certify that education made available by institutions of higher learning meets satisfactory levels of quality. Accrediting organizations, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, produce evaluation standards and conduct peer assessments to examine whether or not those standards are satisfied. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that satisfy an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency.

Regional Accreditation vs. National Accreditation

Regional accreditation or national accreditation are the standard forms of accreditation that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education. This in part means that both forms of accreditation allow the schools to provide federally approved financial aid.

Despite the name difference between regional and national forms of accreditation it is wise to look at schools that have the regional accreditation. So, don’t be fooled by the smaller scope of regional accreditation or the all-encompassing reach of national accreditation, it’s the regional accreditation you want.

Why? I can’t begin to tell you how many students, of all ages, approached me about how they couldn’t transfer ANY credits or get into a graduate program because the school they went to was nationally accredited, or even worse not accredited at all. The untold rule is:

  • nationally accredited schools will generally accept credits from a regionally or nationally accredited schools
  • regionally accredited schools most often will not accept transfer credit from a nationally accredited college or university
  • most graduate schools, where you can get a Master’s or a PhD, tend to be regionally accredited and will gladly take in qualified applicants who possess a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school. The same isn’t true if you obtained a degree from a nationally accredited institution.
  • there are exceptions to all those points, but generally it is the student from a regionally accredited college or university who has less scrutiny ahead of him or her. In any event, grades and GPA matter a lot.
  • if for any reason you can’t go to a regionally accredited school, a nationally accredited college, university, or institute can be a viable option. Whatever you do, make sure the school you go to has at least one of these forms of accreditation. Any other forms of accreditation should be considered as additional to regional and/or national accreditation.
  • Most employers do not pay attention to the form of accreditation, although some Inc. 500 firms do. In hind-sight, to them, a Bachelor’s degree is a Bachelor’s degree. But don’t be fooled! Recruiters and managers often look at the school’s name and reputation when making the final hiring decision. I can assure you that it is those school that have regional accreditation that always pop up as the ones carrying more weight.

There are great schools with national accreditation, and if you prefer to go to a school that has this form of accreditation just be aware of these points. Nationally accredited schools are great if you will never have to transfer credit – leave to another school – or if you are not planning on graduate studies.

Under any circumstances, do not go to a school that is a degree mill or one that is unaccredited. In short, a degree mill is a school that claims to be PROPERLY ACCREDITED, but has no meaningful accreditation. In the end, students with degrees from those institutions will usually pay to get a degree (with no work), or perform little or all the work and receive the degree. In either scenario, the student is the one that always loses. He or she can be demoted or fired from work if the employer was to find out that the degree was not real. Precious time and money are lost, and if you personally were a victim of such a scam, get in line with hundreds and even thousands of swindled students to TRY to get the money back.

Before you start researching degree options and courses, first find out if the school is accredited by either one of the six regional accreditation agencies or nationally accredited.

Links to higher education accrediting agencies

  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) – is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations. This is a national accreditation agency which works very closely with the U.S. Department of Education. An excellent place to perform your search. Look in the “Databases and Directories” section.
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), aka (NCACS) – is a regional accreditation body which covers the division of the North Central states. It is crucial that the college or university that grants a Criminal Justice degree is accredited regionally and/or by the CHEA (above). Look in the “Affiliated Institutions” section.
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) – this regional agency covers accreditation of the educational institutions in the New England States. Check out the “Membership Roster” for more info on your criminal justice school’s accreditation.
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) – is actually named The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (where the acronym “SACSCOC” comes from). This is a regional accreditation agency for Southern states. Click the state your college or university is stationed to find out if it is regionally accredited (located on the main home page).
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) – this accreditation agency is also regional. California and Hawaii schools can be explored here.
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) – this regional accreditation institution includes the upper Western states, including Alaska. Check out “Directory of Institutions” for more details.
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) – is the unit of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools that accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in the Middle States region, which includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several locations internationally.

Final words on Criminal Justice college accreditation & degree certification

It is your responsibility to find out as much as possible on whether or not the college or university is properly accredited for your Criminal Justice degree.

Make a note that a school may be accredited, but certain programs might not be may need or may optionally seek further accreditation or certification ( thank you Dr. Jerin for pointing this out ). Program accreditation / certification is separate from school accreditation, and it is optional/required usually within specialized programs.

F.Y.I. – The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) is an international organization that supports criminal justice research, education, and policy analysis, and certifies criminal justice programs based on faculty, curriculum, student resources, and six other criteria. This is a noteworthy certification, but don’t worry if your school isn’t certified as only a handful of schools have this honor bestowed on them.

In most cases you won’t need the Criminal Justice program to have specific accreditation or certification. So in the end, it is the school accreditation you should worry about the most.

The best way to find out about your school’s accreditation is to contact the school’s representative directly, visit the school’s official website, or browse the aforementioned accreditation websites. Often the information you are seeking on accreditation standards is readily available online.

Don’t cut corners during this process. It is an essential part of your educational journey. You will save yourself tons of money and countless hours just by making sure that you are covered when it comes to accreditation. Good luck!

Clarification – Presto!

If what I say about accreditation doesn’t make sense, which it didn’t for me when I was browsing for colleges and programs, please see the glossary below (provided by the U.S. Department of Education):

  • Accreditation – accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality
  • Accredited – institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency
  • Accrediting agencies – organizations (or bodies) that establish operating standards for educational or professional institutions and programs , determine the extent to which the standards are met, and publicly announce their findings
  • Nationally recognized accrediting agencies – national accrediting agencies are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education they accredit. These agencies accredit single-purpose institutions
  • Pre-accreditation – the status of public recognition that an accrediting agency grants to an institution or program for a limited period of time that signifies the agency has determined that the institution or program is progressing towards accreditation and is likely to gain accreditation before the expiration of that limited period of time
  • Programmatic accrediting agencies – agencies that accredit specific educational programs that prepare students for entry into a profession, occupation, or vocation. These agencies are also known as specialized accreditors
  • Regional accrediting agencies
    Regional accrediting agencies are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education they accredit. The individual agencies accredit institutions in specific geographic regions of the country
  • Specialized accreditation
    Specialized accreditation normally applies to the evaluation of programs, departments, or schools which usually are parts of a total collegiate or other postsecondary institution. The unit accredited may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline. Most of the specialized accrediting agencies review units within a postsecondary institution which is accredited by one of the regional accrediting commissions. However, certain of the specialized accrediting agencies accredit professional schools and other specialized or vocational or other postsecondary institutions which are free-standing in their operations. Thus, a “specialized” or “programmatic” accrediting agency may also function in the capacity of an “institutional” accrediting agency. In addition, a number of specialized accrediting agencies accredit educational programs within non-educational settings, such as hospitals
  • State accrediting agencies
    There are two types of state agencies: those recognized for the approval of postsecondary vocational education, and those recognized for the approval of nurse education
  • Terminated
    The status of an institution or program that an agency no longer accredits – I added this one so you are aware that termination can happen, at times resulting in invalidation of the courses you have taken, as well as the degree.

As always, I welcome any comments, ideas, and your personal experiences with accreditation.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

4 comments… add one
  • Tom Harris

    Thank you so much for this. I was looking all over the Internet for this info.

    I truly appreciate it.


  • Caroline Humphrey

    You covered this very well in this post. Criminal justice online and similar online degree programs need to be properly accredited.

    I see you don’t play around and keep to stringent standards when it comes to online school accreditation. Kudos to you.

  • Diane

    I attended Kaplan University online for my A.A.S. Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement and I am in my final term for my B.S Criminal Justice/Forensic Psychology. I have a 4.0 GPA of which I earned, it was not handed to me. I am a member of 4 honor societies, and my home state of Illinois has provided me with the Financial Aid to accomplish this. Kaplan is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, it is recognized by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and approved by the Iowa and Illinois Divisions of Vocational Rehabilitation.

    I recently was considered for a job within my field (probation) but Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts- Probation Department (AOIC) they state that the State of Illinois will not recognize the accreditation of Kaplan University. Because of this I could not be offered the job I worked so hard for.

    If Illinois is not accepting the accreditation of Kaplan University, then why are they providing Financial Aid to students who will not be able to use their degrees to obtain their career and have the ability to pay their school loans?

    My goal was to obtain a career in my field before I graduated so that I could start making the money before the school loans became due. I had my goals in my hand, and they are now gone. All I have is the debt.

    How could this have happened?

    I have been reaching out to Kaplan University, my state representative, the Higher Learning Commission and anyone else that I feel may help me with this serious issue.

    • Frank

      Diane I find it hard to believe Illinois doesn’t accept degrees from Kaplan University when Kaplan is regionally accredited by the same accrediting agency that accredits the University of Illinois and many other colleges in Illinois. However, is there a specific ‘programmatic accreditation’ Illinois is looking for that Kaplan may not have?

Leave a Comment