When choosing a graduate nursing program, you will compare schools based on a number of factors: cost, distance from home, course requirements, how it aligns with your career goals, and more. However, you should not overlook one important factor, as it can make a significant difference in your future educational and career plans. That factor? Accreditation.
Accreditation is essentially a stamp of approval on the program, as granted by the accrediting organization. Currently, there are two national organizations that evaluate and grant accreditation to nursing programs: The National League of Nursing — Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
The NLNAC accreditation designation extends across all types of programs, including college and university, vocational schools, hospitals, and any agency that provides training and academic credentialing to prospective nurses. CCNE accreditation is only available to those programs that offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In addition to these accrediting bodies, there are specialized accreditation programs for nurse anesthetist and midwife training program.
Some argue that there are advantages to one form of accreditation over the other, but despite passionate opinions on both sides of the argument, accredited nursing programs share several common features. In short, when you choose an accredited program, you can have confidence that you’ll receive a comprehensive education that prepares you to work in the field of nursing from qualified educators — and that you stand a better-than-average chance of passing your licensing application at the end of the program.
Benefits of Accreditation
Because not all nursing programs are accredited by either NLNAC or CCNE, it’s important to consider the benefits of choosing a school with this credential. Some of the benefits of choosing an accredited program include:
- Eligibility for government financial aid. Most federal and state student aid relies upon the student attending an accredited program.
- Easier transfer of credits. Should you decide to change schools, or you want to go back to school to finish a degree or earn an advanced degree, the credits from an accredited program are more likely to transfer than those from a non-accredited program are. In some cases, you may be required to either take additional coursework or pass an aptitude exam to avoid having to retake courses you took at an unaccredited program.
- Job search advantages. In some cases, such as in government jobs, employers require applicants to hold a degree from an accredited educational institution. Even those employers who do not require an accredited degree are likely to give preference to those candidates that do. All other things being equal, the standing of your training program can be what pushes you to the top of the list of candidates.
- A quality education. While a school that lacks accreditation isn’t necessarily a poor quality school, when you choose an accredited program, you can have confidence that you’re receiving an education that will allow you to practice confidently. In addition, because the accreditation process relies heavily on a school’s commitment to continuous improvement, you can be assured that your school is always striving for better and is committed to staying abreast of bet practices.
Accreditation vs. Approval
It’s important to recognize that there is a difference between accreditation and approval when evaluating nursing program. Again, accreditation requires an evaluation by a competent and respected team of nursing peers, and serves as an independent “seal of approval.”
Approval, on the other hand, simply means that the program has been approved by the state board of nursing to provide the education and training required to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This does not mean that the program has been accredited by the NLNAC or CCNE; however, in order to achieve the accredited designation, a program must be approved.
What It All Means for You
Accreditation is an optional designation. Nursing programs are not required to seek or maintain accreditation (in fact, some schools have lost their accreditation for various reasons), and lacking the designation does not mean that the program is poor, or that graduates will never land a job. However, there are some distinct advantages to attending an accredited program, so carefully review your program’s status and keep it in mind when making your decision.