Regional vs. National Accreditation for Nursing Programs

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Nursing professionals constitute the bulk of healthcare workers in the U.S., with more than 3.8 million registered nurses currently practicing, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The need for qualified registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses continues to grow as more doctors and nursing professionals retire.

Five nursing students gather around a laptop at a work table.To prepare for the anticipated shortage of healthcare professionals, prospective nurses need to earn a degree and gain experience in the field. Today, nursing students comprise more than half of all health professions students, according to the AACN. However, nursing students should be sure the program is accredited before applying for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

If you are already an experienced registered nurse and want to pursue a nursing degree, such as an online RN to BSN degree, choosing an accredited nursing program is essential. However, when it comes to regional vs. national accreditation, what’s the difference? And why does it matter?

Why Is Accreditation Important?

One of the most important things a prospective nursing student should research when applying for nursing school is if the university and specific nursing program are accredited. Two different types of accreditation — institution based and program based — can have a bearing on whether a nursing student receives federal financial aid, can transfer credits, and qualifies to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

After receiving a state license to operate, universities typically seek accreditation through a regional or national accreditation organization. While regional accreditation may sound more local than national accreditation, it is actually an older and more established process. A university that has regional accreditation is usually seen as more prestigious. Typically, lower-tier institutions receive national accreditation instead of regional accreditation.

However, when it comes to specific programs, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, the accrediting organizations operate strictly on a national accreditation basis. Nursing programs strive to be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which are two national programmatic accrediting organizations.

What Is Accreditation for Nursing Programs?

Accreditation at the university level is an essential aspect of U.S. education. According to standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Education, “the goal of accreditation is to ensure that institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of quality.” However, programmatic accreditation is also essential and could be even more important than institutional accreditation for certain programs, such as nursing.

For example, the CCNE or ACEN accreditation process doesn’t regard the institution as a whole by looking into its various departments. Instead, it verifies that a nursing program meets all the educational requirements of the accreditation governing body. Nursing programs seek programmatic accreditation through well-respected organizations, such as the CCNE or ACEN, because they hold those programs to the highest standard of excellence.

Accreditation Standards Result in Better Medical Care

Private education associations and nongovernmental entities develop standards and assess nursing programs according to specific criteria for accreditation. Accreditation encourages ongoing improvement in nursing programs. This improvement results in better medical care.

For nursing programs to earn national programmatic accreditation, they must offer excellent teaching and curricula. Moreover, programs must have a history of successfully graduating students. Students who graduate from accredited nursing programs are highly qualified and contribute high-level skills and knowledge to the field.

Accreditation Gives Nursing Students a Firm Foundation

The process of accreditation motivates nursing programs nationwide to hire the most qualified professors and experts in the field. Having access to cutting-edge technology, working with professionals, and being introduced to the latest policies and procedures gives nursing students a firm foundation in nursing. Accordingly, program graduates are ready to take the NCLEX-RN exam, pass it, and work as certified registered nurses.

Regional and National Accreditation: Similarities

On the institutional level, universities can either obtain regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation predates national accreditation, and regional agencies serve specific geographic regions in the U.S. They typically work with nonprofit academic institutions. For-profit colleges, as well as trade schools and religious universities, typically seek national institutional accreditation.

Nursing programs can obtain national programmatic accreditation. They can also be part of a university that has regional or national institutional accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes all accrediting agencies.

Nonaccredited vs. Accredited Institutions

Students benefit in multiple ways from attending accredited schools and programs, rather than those that are nonaccredited. For instance, if a nursing student earns an associate degree in nursing from a nonaccredited program, they typically won’t be able to transfer credits from that program to an accredited BSN program. A significant drawback of graduating from a nonaccredited BSN program is that a nursing student may not be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become a registered nurse.

Benefits of Attending Accredited Institutions

Earning a degree from an accredited institution and program yields many long-term benefits, including financial ones. Attending college or nursing school can be expensive, and typically only students attending accredited programs can apply for federal financial aid.

Additionally, if a registered nurse wants to apply for a graduate program after earning their BSN, they usually must have graduated from an accredited BSN program to qualify. Earning a BSN from an accredited program prepares nursing students for the rigor of an accredited MSN program.

Regional vs. National Accreditation: Differences

While regional and national accreditation have many factors in common, the biggest difference is that students can’t usually transfer credits from a nationally accredited institution to a regionally accredited one, due to the higher prestige of regional accreditation. Credits can often be transferred between regionally accredited schools, and nursing students can usually transfer credits between accredited programs.

Regional Accreditation

Regional institutional accreditation organizations recognized by the CHEA include the following:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Commission on Higher Education
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

National Accreditation

National institutional accreditation organizations recognized by the CHEA include trade-related entities, such as the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Council on Occupational Education, and faith-related entities such as the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

Programmatic accreditation comes from national organizations focused on specific career areas, including the CCNE and the ACEN. Attending a nursing program with national programmatic accreditation appeals to individuals interested in working in a large medical facility. According to the AACN, most hospitals hire nurses who have graduated from nursing programs that are nationally accredited through either the CCNE or the ACEN. These are the two largest national accrediting organizations and are highly respected in the field.

Earn Your BSN from an Accredited Program

Attending an accredited university, whether regionally or nationally accredited, benefits students who are seeking a high-quality education. Additionally, nursing students who are passionate about helping people and making a difference in the medical field should make sure that their BSN has programmatic accreditation to ensure that they can advance their careers as registered nurses.

Considering earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing, and wondering about regional vs. national accreditation? Learn more about Maryville University’s online RN to BSN degree, which is nationally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Discover how the program can help you pursue your professional goals in the nursing field.

Recommended Reading

BSN vs. MSN Degree: What Is the Difference?

Comparing Nursing Degree Certificate: Practical Nurse vs. RN

Your Future in Nursing: RN vs. BSN vs. MSN

Sources

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Benefits of Accreditation

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, CCNE Accreditation Process

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet

Council for Higher Education Accreditation, About Accreditation

Nursing CAS, “What’s the Deal with Accreditation?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. Department of Education, Overview of Accreditation in the United States