Accreditation: Why it matters for an MPA
The strength of a graduate school’s program can go a long way to your future success in public administration. This isn’t a field where networking alone is sufficient – you’ll need a clear understanding of management and administration to establish a long, rewarding career. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a school from the outside. Most of the elements vital to your success – the curriculum, faculty, resources and other aspects of the school – remain hidden until you are enrolled.
Thankfully, there are numerous accrediting agencies to evaluate different schools for you. These independent, third-party organizations establish a list of guidelines they use to appraise schools. The terms of each agency vary – some evaluate schools based on location while others assess based on industry. Regardless, accreditation helps you determine which schools will most likely lead you to success.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a process that evaluates the quality of education provided by different universities, colleges and other higher-education institutions. It is essentially a peer review process – private nonprofits create a set of standards, and schools can voluntarily opt in for assessment. Per the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the practice is over a century old and arose out of concerns for public health and safety.
Accreditation is widely seen as the most reliable signifier of academic quality. The federal government in particular uses accreditation when deciding which schools receive funding, especially for research. Likewise, students enrolled at accredited colleges are more likely to earn federal financial aid.
States also refer to a school’s accreditation or lack thereof when determining whether or not to provide operational support. Similarly, many private organizations – both corporations and nonprofits – look at a school’s accreditation before offering donations. Governments, companies and nonprofits want to be sure the money they provide goes to quality programs that support students and help them advance their chosen industries upon graduation.
Furthermore, schools use accreditation to evaluate each other. According to the latest Transfer & Mobility report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, over 37 percent of students transfer to different colleges at least once. Schools use accreditation to make sure an incoming transfer student received an education similar enough to their own programs so that the student should have no issues adjusting.
Accrediting institutions isn’t regulated by the government, however. This allows for what is commonly referred to as accreditation mills. These organizations promise quality but don’t deliver, offering schools meaningless certifications without properly vetting them. Accreditation mills can easily mislead prospective students into choosing a school that doesn’t provide a good education.
Thankfully, although the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t regulate accreditors directly, the Department of Education has a list of recognized agencies it designates as reliable and evaluates on a recurring basis. These organizations don’t preemptively adhere to government standards – rather, the government looks at their methods and deems them acceptable after they’ve been put in place.
In addition, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation has a detailed list of recognized accreditors. The list designates whether the agencies are recognized by the CHEA, the DOE or both. Referring to these lists when looking through MPA options helps you make sure the program is truly worth your time.
How are accreditors categorized?
The CHEA recognizes four types of accrediting agencies:
- Regional agencies accredit public and private schools within specific geographic boundaries.
- National faith-related agencies accredit religiously affiliated colleges and universities.
- National career-related agencies accredit institutions designed for a single purpose or career; most are for-profit establishments.
- Programmatic agencies accredit specific programs based on criteria necessary for success in a particular profession.
Meanwhile, the DOE lists three accreditor categories:
- Regional: There are 12 active regional accreditors, including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
- Nationally recognized: These evaluate schools across the nation.
- Specialized: These agencies are mostly branches of professional organizations like the American Bar Association or the American Dental Association.
Is the Rutgers-Newark Master of Public Administration program accredited?
According to the latest data report from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, at least 74 percent of graduates from accredited programs were employed within six months of earning their MPA. Thirty-six percent of these former students were employed in the government sector. Of these individuals, the following occurred:
- 15 percent worked in local offices.
- 12 percent worked in state, provincial or regional offices.
- 7 percent worked in national or central offices.
- 2 percent worked in foreign offices.
The School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark, provider of the online Master of Public Administration, is accredited by the NASPAA. Before a program becomes eligible for accreditation by the NASPAA, its parent school must be recognized by a regional, national or international agency. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is a member of the Association of American Universities.