Many graphic design degree programs can be found, both in traditional classroom settings as well as online. Some of them are accredited. Some of them are not. The question then arises as to whether or not being accredited matters for graphic design degree. If the coursework is the same, does it matter if the courses are endorsed?
What Is Accreditation?
According to the US Department of Education’s Office of Post-secondary Education, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” That is, it seeks to ascertain whether or not a college or university offers coursework of sufficient rigor to be valuable, rather than merely offering time in a room or in front of a screen for money. Schools that are accredited have passed review by outside agencies to ensure that they both do what they purport to do and purport to do something worth doing.
Schools and programs can both be accredited, and they can be accredited independently of one another. That is, a school can be accredited even if not all of its programs are. And they can be accredited by different agencies. Typically, the institution as a whole will be accredited by a regional accrediting body, while programs will be accredited individually by professional or allied organizations. This is as true for graphic design as for any other field of study.
Why Does It Matter?
Admittedly, at one level, being accredited does not matter. It is the case that quality instruction is quality instruction, whether or not a given institution or program has asked an outside agency to come in and accredit it. Indeed, the relationship between institution and accreditor can be somewhat suspect, as the accreditors have to accredit some institutions, lest they find themselves without a purpose—or, indeed, a source of income.
That noted, being accredited is of several benefits. One of them is that an outside review is something worth having. No institution is going to say that it does not do a good job, but outside bodies are not obliged to speak well for schools that do not deserve it. Indeed, a number of institutions find themselves failing to be accredited or reaccredited (schools have to be reviewed periodically, usually every seven to ten years, to retain their status), largely because they take students’ money while offering little to nothing in return. Not being accredited, then, is associated with not being honest and reputable—and degrees from less reputable schools are less likely to result in employment offers. Being accredited redresses the problem.
Another benefit is that accredited graphic design degree programs actually count. Those students who wish to continue their educations after an associates or bachelors will typically need to have degrees from accredited schools if they wish to study further. Further, those who wish to work for many places, including in civil service positions, have to have accredited degrees if they wish to use their degrees as part of their job applications. Those which do not come from accredited programs do not count, and claiming as valid a degree that is not from an accredited school and program can be considered as fraudulent, depending on where the job is. For those reasons, and many others, being accredited really matters for those who want graphic design degrees.