When you're looking around at schools, deciding where to get your degree, remember to check on the institution's accreditation. You can do this via the CHEA Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized US Accrediting Organizations.
Essentially, accreditation ensures that the same degrees from different institutions have equal value.
In the U.S., regional accreditation by one of the six nonprofit regional accrediting organizations is the most difficult for an institution of higher learning to obtain. Regional accreditation not only guarantees that the degree granted by the institution meets the highest standards of quality and content, but that credits (and degrees) earned from it will be accepted by other schools if you should ever want to obtain another degree.
Professional schools are accredited by programmatic accrediting organizations. For example, the U.S. Department of Education considers the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) to be the only authority for accrediting programs leading to an MD degree. And students must have attended a LCME-accredited school to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Similarly, to practice law in a state other than the state in which you attended law school, your school must have been accredited by the American Bar Association. There are many other accrediting bodies for professions as diverse as pharmacy, marriage and family therapy, psychology, podiatry, landscape architecture, and veterinary medicine.
There are also national accrediting organizations, which tend to oversee both specialized academic institutions and vocational institutions. Some of these are the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), and Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). While schools accredited by these national accrediting agencies are generally reputable, credit and degrees earned from them may not be accepted by regionally-accredited schools. This means that if you want to get a higher degree (e.g., an M.A.) from a regionally-accredited school and received a lower degree (e.g., B.S.) from a nationally-accredited school, you may be disappointed.
Unfortunately, some institutions claim accreditation from agencies not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education such as the Association of Online Academic Excellence, the World Association of Universities and Colleges, the Association of Private Colleges and Universities, and United States Distance Education and Training Council. These organizations are NOT recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Don't be misled by organizations not recognized as accrediting agencies by the Department of Education or by an .edu in the school's Internet address.
For more on what to avoid, see the Diploma Mills page.