Why Does Accreditation Matter in Nursing Programs?

Accreditation ensures that nursing schools and programs provide a quality education.

Are you a registered nurse looking to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing? The first thing you need to find out is whether the nursing programs you’re looking at are accredited. Programs that are not accredited do not always provide the quality education necessary to become a great nurse. They also cannot provide students with access to federal student aid like Pell Grants. Furthermore, employers may require job candidates to have a nursing degree from an accredited school.

You also want to ensure that the institution has approval from the appropriate state Board of Nursing. Approval and accreditation are not the same thing, but both are important factors in choosing the right RN to BSN nursing program online.

What Is Accreditation?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the purpose of accreditation is to ensure that higher education institutions provide an acceptable standard of education. Institutions voluntarily undergo an evaluation process to show they meet the accrediting body’s requirements.

The DOE does not accredit institutions. Rather, it provides detailed procedures for accrediting agencies. Its procedures outline the steps to determine whether an accreditor is in compliance with DOE’s criteria for recognition. In turn, accrediting bodies establish operating standards for educational programs.

The DOE website publishes a list of accredited schools, recognized agencies and guideline regulations for nationally recognizing accrediting agencies by specialty. The list also appears in the Federal Register. Once the DOE recognizes an accrediting agency, it will monitor the agency on an ongoing basis. Federally recognized agencies must re-apply for recognition every five years.

What Are the Accreditation Bodies That Accredit Nursing Education Programs?

There are four accrediting bodies for nursing schools. Two accredit specialized programs, one in anesthesia and the other in midwifery. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredit programs offering master’s and bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

ACEN accredits the following types of nursing programs:

  • Clinical doctorate.
  • Master’s and post-master’s certificate.
  • Baccalaureate.
  • Associate.
  • Diploma.
  • Practical.

CCNE accredits the following types of nursing programs:

  • Doctoral.
  • Master’s.
  • Baccalaureate.

Are There Any Other Accrediting Agencies?

ACEN and CCNE are currently the only two DOE federally recognized accrediting agencies for higher education nursing programs. Understanding the accreditation process will help you ensure that you enroll in a quality education program and avoid diploma mills.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act defines a diploma mill as an entity that requires little or no coursework toward a diploma, degree or certificate — in exchange for a fee. Diploma mills do not have accreditation from a recognized accreditor.

Unfortunately, diploma mills often claim accreditation from unrecognized accreditation agencies. That is why it is important to understand the accreditation process. To find accredited programs and federally recognized agencies, visit the Department of Education’s website.

How Are Schools with Nursing Programs Accredited?

Agencies like CCNE and ACEN are private national educational associations that accredit nursing programs. Using set evaluation criteria, the accreditors conduct peer reviews to assess the nursing program. This determines if the program meets the criteria, which include widely accepted current standards, procedures and practices.

What Does Approval By the State Board of Nursing Mean?

The Colorado Board of Nursing has approved CMU’s nursing program. However, this is not the same thing as receiving accreditation. (CMU’s BSN program is accredited by CCNE.) State boards do not have the ability to accredit nursing programs. State board approval means the nursing program has met standards set by the specific state’s laws. Approved nursing programs can admit students and conduct courses.

What Happens When You Attend a Nursing School That Is Not Accredited?

It is possible to come across a nursing school that has state board approval but no accreditation. A non-accredited school has not shown it meets national standards. When students earn a degree from an unaccredited institution, they may struggle to find employment because many employers only hire nurses who measure up to national standards. Usually, that means a degree from an accredited program.

Additionally, a student may look to transfer college credits to another institution. If the credits come from an unaccredited institution, the new institution may not accept the credit.

As you research nursing programs, ensure the institution has both state approval and national accreditation. Although accreditation is voluntary, attending an accredited nursing program ensures you receive a quality education that meets national standards.

Approval, on the other hand, is mandatory. A nursing program must receive state Board of Nursing approval to admit students and grant degrees. Most importantly, students enrolled in state-approved institutions can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nursing licensure.

Learn more about the CMU RN to BSN online program.


(n.d.). Board of Nursing: Education Resources.

(2009). Diploma Mills and Accreditation — Diploma Mills.

(n.d.). Accreditation: Universities and Higher Education.

(n.d.). The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.

Request Information
Personal Information
How did you hear about us?
All fields required.
or call 1-855-804-7193