Why is Nursing School Accreditation So Important?

If you’re getting a nursing degree – whether it’s a BSN, an MSN, or even a DNP or PhD – you need to know if your nursing school is accredited. It can literally mean the difference between a degree that gets you ahead in your career, or that is worth nothing but the paper it is printed on.

Why is Accreditation Important for Nursing Schools?

Accreditation ensures that educational programs offered by a university are held to a certain standard. The purpose of accreditation is to make sure that students are taught accepted practices in their employment field of choice, and are capable of upholding those standards upon graduation and the conferring of their degree. The larger implications of accreditation is to give a graduate an air of trustworthiness, the assumption that they will perform to the accepted standards and practices of their profession, and that they can be trusted by governments, licensing agencies, and the public at large. These reasons are why nursing school accreditations are important and is why a student needs to check for accreditation when selecting a school.

The ability to accept federal student loans is another important aspect of nursing school accreditations. The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has made nursing school accreditations mandatory for schools who want to accept federal student loans from their nursing students. Agencies are qualified by the Secretary, and can begin gate-keeping duties for a specific area of study. In the case of nursing school accreditations, the Secretary also recognizes state agencies for the approval of nursing education. Accreditation also enables the student to transfer their credits from one nursing school to another.

Students who wish to attend nursing school and intend to use federal student loans need to make sure the school of their choice bears recognized nursing school accreditations. Choosing a school with nursing school accreditation offers value in the form of a nursing education that’s held to a specific standard and ultimately makes it easier to find employment as a nurse after graduation.

Most importantly,  if you want to take the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse, your ADN or BSN has to come from an accredited school.

Is One Type of Accreditation Better Than Another?

There are two major accrediting bodies for nursing schools: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education is more limited in scope than ACEN, but is still an important accreditation for nursing students who are in pursuit of an advanced degree. CCNE accreditation standards are the same as ACEN standards, but there’s a singular difference between both accrediting bodies. When comparing ACEN vs CCNE, it’s quickly apparent that CCNE is only granted to bachelor and masters degree programs whereas ACEN accredits all degree levels of nursing.

It’s normal to ask the question of “Is ACEN accreditation good?” or “Are CCNE accreditation standards high?” The fact is, both agencies create a baseline for standards in nursing education at all degree levels, and both accrediting bodies are similar to each other in terms of standards. A student who is seeking their LPN or RN license should make sure that the school features ACEN accreditation at the very least. ACEN standards ensure that a nursing student who is entering the nursing field at the entry level is a nurse that’s been trained to perform their job to expected standards and can show competency in their role. Students who are returning to school, or plan to earn their BSN prior to entering the workforce, need to check for CCNE nursing accreditation or ACEN accreditation.

Who Governs the Accrediting Organizations?

There are two major governing bodies for nursing school accreditation: U.S. Department of Education (DoE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The U.S. Department of Education grants accrediting status to not-for-profit agencies that can demonstrate they meet regulatory criteria and have a link with a federal program. In contrast, the CHEA is a private organization that was created by college and university presidents in response to the federal government’s creation of the federal accrediting program.

The central purpose of accreditation by the DoE is to create an educational standard and guarantee quality in a given academic program. In the 1960s, the federal government took a look at the educational standards put out by colleges and universities and found that the quality of education varied greatly. In 1965, Congress passed the Higher Education Act (HEA) and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. Part of the HEA enables the Secretary of Education to approve accrediting agencies and act as a watchdog to make sure that agencies maintain educational standards.

Presidents of universities and colleges responded to the HEA and created the CHEA. Their reasoning behind the creation of CHEA was based on the concept that universities should be the primary determinants of academic quality and performance. Places of higher education can also hold CHEA certification which also demonstrates that the institution holds itself to high standards of educational quality. However, CHEA accreditation does not offer students the opportunity to obtain student loans at the private or federal level. CHEA accreditation has value on its own and acts a counterpoint to the DoE, and students can be assured they’ll get a quality education at a school with this accreditation.

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Keeley Jones
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Carrie Sealey-Morris