What You Need to Know About Accreditation | Knowledge is Power

Updated | Published
by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Picking the right school is so important. Too many students have been devastated by choosing a school for the wrong reasons or without knowing how to perform due diligence. Here's an informative article on accreditation.

Is your nursing program accredited?

What You Need to Know About Accreditation | Knowledge is Power

Maria is an LPN who simply can't afford to take out a loan for nursing school, but she is very bright and wants to be an RN with all her heart. She is a 27-year-old divorced single mother of 3 and wonders if she should apply to the nursing program at her local community college. She has heard the term accreditation in relation to schools but really doesn’t know what it means or how it applies to herself and her situation.

What You Need to Know About  Accreditation 

FACT: Institutional accreditation is not the same as nursing program accreditation.

Institutions (universities and colleges) can be accredited either nationally or regionally. Regional accreditation is preferable to national accreditation. Credits from regionally accredited institutions are more readily transferable.

But just because a university is accredited doesn’t mean its nursing program is accredited. Nursing program accreditation is separate and distinct from university or college accreditation.

Nursing programs are accredited by one of 2 accrediting bodies

Either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Neither one is better than the other. CCNE focuses on baccalaureate and graduate programs, including online; ACEN accredits nursing programs at all levels.

It’s pretty easy to find out if a program is accredited once you know to look for either the CCNE or ACEN abbreviation. They both have distinctive logos, and usually, the accreditation is prominently displayed on the nursing school’s website page because it’s bragging rights for the school and a competitive feature. 

You can also go to the ACEN and CCNE websites, where accredited schools are listed. 

Aside from signaling a commitment to quality, accreditation ensures that students may be eligible for federal aid and that credits are readily transferable.

Are you having a hard time deciding which nursing school to attend?
Visit Accredited Nursing Schools & Programs

BON/BRN program approval is mandatory, ACEN/CCNE accreditation is voluntary (in most states)

FACT: State BONs/BRNs approve nursing programs. They do not accredit nursing programs.

BONs/BRNs typically keep a list of the approved programs on their website. The purpose is to list schools that meet that particular state’s educational requirements. Students who attend non-approved schools will not be eligible to take the NCLEX. However, attending an accredited program is not required for testing eligibility in most states.

Not all non-accredited programs are bad

Most students will choose an accredited school for good reasons, but it would be wrong to say non-accredited schools are bad. There are some non-accredited nursing programs that are excellent. Here’s an example. 

A small midwestern town has a regionally accredited community college with an outstanding ADN nursing program. The program is not accredited because the cost is too high. The community college has a transfer agreement with partnering universities, so that transfer of credit is seamless between schools, enabling higher education. The program has a 98% NCLEX pass rate. Their graduates are snapped up by local hospitals because of the nurses’ reputation for hitting the ground running. (The same town also has a state university with an accredited BSN program.)

So while it’s important to look at accreditation, there are several things to consider. 

When choosing a nursing program, ask yourself the following:

  • Do hospitals in the area hire graduates from the program?
  • Does the program have an agreement of transfer credits with higher-level schools to pursue BSN and MSN?
  • What are the graduation and retention rates?
  • What is the NCLEX pass rate? 
  • How many qualified applicants are waitlisted or denied entrance?
  • How many graduates find employment?

You can find out about transfer of credit policies through the institution’s admissions and registration department. 

In Maria’s case above, carefully considering the local non-accredited program may give her the opportunity she needs to better herself and her family’s life.

Nurse Beth

Note: Nurse Anesthesia programs are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), while midwifery programs are accredited by the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM).

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development and am a blogger and author.

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3 Comment(s)

MEDFET, CNA

Specializes in CNA telemetry progressive care ICU. Has 10 years experience. 209 Posts

This was informative thank you

Mergirlc, RN

591 Posts

This article should be pinned to both the Pre-Nursing and General Students, Support, Stories topics pages.  I have lost count how many times I read stories on AN about students not being able to take NCLEX, after pouring money into a school program, due to accreditation being pulled or some other "scam." Very unfortunate. 

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,648 Posts

18 minutes ago, Mergirlc said:

This article should be pinned to both the Pre-Nursing and General Students, Support, Stories topics pages.  I have lost count how many times I read stories on AN about students not being able to take NCLEX, after pouring money into a school program, due to accreditation being pulled or some other "scam." Very unfortunate. 

It seems some of these schools target vulnerable students who are trying to better their life.