Virginia Beach, Virginia - Sailors working on completing a degree should ensure their school has the appropriate type of accreditation or it could cost them money later, said Center for Personal and Professional Development education professionals.
"Most students know the school they attend should have some sort of accreditation as a way of ensuring the quality of their education, but they don't understand how important the type of accreditation is in their school selection," said Ernest D'Antonio, director of Navy Voluntary Education at the Center for Personal and Professional Development. "I've seen way too many examples of service members using their tuition assistance or G.I. Bill education benefits to earn a degree at a school whose credits aren't transferrable to or recognized by other schools. And when a Sailor's benefit is spent, it's spent."
According to Raymond Sayre, director of the Navy College Office in San Diego, there are three kinds of accreditation. One is regional, which is granted by an accrediting organization in one of six regions in the United States. "Regional accrediting organizations review educational institutions as a whole," he said. "Schools with regionally accredited programs focus on academic theory for a full range of degrees from accounting to zoology at all educational levels."
National accreditation is another type. Sayre said nationally accredited institutions fill a different educational need than those with regional accreditation. "The real difference is that national accrediting bodies focus on operational/technical skills. These accreditors tend to focus on a particular discipline such as business or technical skills, or distance learning," he said.
The third kind is accreditation for specialized programs and single-purpose organizations. A specialized accreditation is typically granted for a particular section or discipline within a regionally accredited educational institution, such as for a school's law, medical or engineering program.
It's confusing because it's complicated, according to D'Antonio. "The key for Sailors is to understand how accreditation directly relates to their educational goals," he said. "This is part of why Navy College Program education professionals exist - to help Sailors make the best choice for them."
Sayre pointed out that one type of accreditation isn't necessarily better than the others; it is simply contingent on the student's objectives. "It depends on what professional path Sailors are choosing," he said. "If they want a hands-on career in the vocational or technical world such as auto repair, electronics, nuclear technician, etc., they may benefit by choosing a school with national accreditation. If their choice is the academic world - teacher, law, business or doctor, for example - they ought to choose regional accreditation. Many nationally accredited schools offer advanced vocational or technical education and training programs that are excellent and meet the needs for which they were designed."
A handful of schools have both regional and national accreditation, but Sayre said it isn't common.
Gary Henwood, an educational services specialist at Navy College Office (NCO) Whidbey Island, Wash., said it's important for Sailors to view their school choice in the broader spectrum of their current - and future - educational goals. "When Sailors apply for commissioning programs such as Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program or Seaman-to-Admiral 21, the participating universities and colleges are regionally accredited and may not accept credits from nationally accredited schools."
For this reason, Henwood advises Sailors specifically trying for a commission to ensure they attend an accredited school whose credits are transferrable to other programs since it's up to each school what transfer credits it will accept.
Sailors not applying for a commissioning program should still carefully consider how they're using the Tuition Assistance program to complete classes toward their degree, or it could result in bad news. Henwood gave an example of a Sailor he worked with last year who completed a Bachelor of Science in Business from a nationally accredited school, which he used Navy Tuition Assistance to complete. He then applied to a regionally accredited school's MBA program, but that school didn't honor his bachelor's degree. "Because the Navy only pays for one bachelor's degree, he will have to go back and pay out-of-pocket for a regionally accredited degree program or return to the original school for its MBA, which limits his choices."
While this is one example, there is no steadfast rule. Sayre pointed out that some regionally accredited schools do accept credits earned from a nationally accredited school. "A degree from many nationally accredited schools can make you eligible for a commissioning program, depending on which school you earned your degree from," Sayre said. "Also, a high-tech degree from a nationally accredited school may make you more competitive for employment after completion of military obligation."
The U.S. Department of Education has a College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) on its website to assist students in evaluating schools in areas such as costs, financial aid access and graduation rates. Navy students have an additional resource - education professionals at Navy College Offices and the Virtual Education Center.
"Degree types are an individual choice," Sayre said. "Our job as counselors is to provide information - without opinion - that enables the individual to make educated choices."
Sayre said Sailors should thoroughly research schools and ask the right questions. "Any school an individual is going to invest in should be 'checked out' to ensure the institution is able to meet the needs and long-term goals of the individual. Impartial, professional counseling and advisement is critical," he said.
According to D'Antonio, Voluntary Education and Navy College Program professionals are committed to helping Sailors reach their educational and credentialing goals. "We provide the necessary academic programs that meet the needs of an educated force and provide the needed academic advice and counseling that guides our Sailors toward their life-long learning goals," he said. "When we are successful in this mission, we have served the Navy and the Sailor."
For more information about the Center for Personal and Professional Development (CPPD), visit https://www.netc.navy.mil/centers/cppd/ and www.navy.mil/local/voledpao/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-for-Personal-and-Professional-Development/100056459206 and Twitter @CENPERSPROFDEV.