Is it better if schools are nationally or regionally accredited?
To begin with, "national" accreditation versus "regional" accreditation has nothing to do with comparing national versus state (or any other kind of) apples and/or oranges. It also has nothing to do with geography, or who "monitors" what, or what "region" a given accreditor covers; and "regionally" accredited schools are not either better or worse than "nationally" accredited schools simply on account of such things. It also has nothing to do with where one intends to work, whether in or out of one's "region," whatever that even means in this context. It also has nothing to do with whether the school in question is "elite" or not; and, yes, there is a difference between "national" and "regional" accreditation, at least in the ignorant minds of many. Pretty much most of every previous answer, here, then, is flat-out wrong. It should be illegal, in my opinion, for answers in a place like this to be so reckless and misleading. Shame on the lot of them for that.
The first and most important thing to understand is that as long as whatever kind of accreditation it is -- be it "regional" or "national" -- is approved by either or both of the US Department of Education (USDE), and/or the USDE-sanctioned Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), then it's all approximately equally credible. Yes, there are practical difference which should not be ignored, and I'll cover them all, here. However, believe me, both regional and national accreditors, as is required of them by USDE and/or CHEA, are painstakingly rigorous in their assessments of their accredited schools.
There are six big both USDE- and CHEA-approved "regional" accreditors, each covering only certain of -- approximately one-sixth of -- the 50 US states. In other words, they accredit only schools in the one-sixth of the 50 US states that are in their respective USDE-assigned regions. Some "regional" accreditors also cover parts of non-US countries, though it's mostly just the 50 US states with which they concern themselves. "Accreditation" in most non-US countries can be quite different from how we do it here, in the US, so most US "regional" accreditors tend not to want to stick their toes into non-US accreditation waters...
...though, that said, some are intentionally expanding to try to do just that. For our purposes, here, though, let's just stick with the US.
The "regional" accreditors came first. At the higher-education (post-secondary) level, the USDE established them, originally, mostly just to ensure that any school -- college, university, seminary, or even post-secondary technical and/or trade/career school -- had sufficiently high academic and administrative standards, and financial soundness, that post-war "GI Bill" money spent by the government to educate veterans would not be wasted. It, at least in the beginning, was really as simple as that. Soon, thereafter, the USDE also became additionally concerned about ensuring that schools on which government grant and/or loan money was spent -- be it money given directly to schools, or to students -- were credible, in the same ways that it wanted to ensure that GI Bill money was only spent on credible schools. So, then, at least at first, that's mostly all that at least USDE-approved accreditation was about: ensuring that government money spent on schools was only spent on academically and administratively and financially sound ones.
However, in very short order, USDE-approved "regional" accreditation became about a whole lot more than just that; it became a way to ensure that all schools, at all levels, were academically rigorous/credible and financially sound, for all kinds of reasons which, ultimately, inure to society's benefit.
On the purely academic side of things, the USDE-sanctioned organizations that were the forerunners of today's CHEA, and now CHEA, today, have always been more about pure educational quality -- academic rigor, financial soundeness, and new and creative educational methods -- than has traditionally been the USDE... though the USDE now cares about all aspects of things, too, and not merely protecting GI Bill, or grant, or student loan money from less-than-credible schools. Both USDE and CHEA, now, care about the whole package.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It is USDE and/or CHEA -- and those two entities, along, in the US -- which approve accreditors. No accreditor which isn't approved by either or both of USDE and/or CHEA may legitimately call itself an educational accreditor; and most so-called accreditors which are not approved by at least one or the other of USDE and/or CHEA are not really accreditors at all; they are, in fact, usually, just fake or bogus accreditors... so-called "accreditation mills." Remember that fake, bogus, unaccredited schools -- degree and diploma mills -- are very sophsticated, and will not hesitate to create a fake/bogus accreditor and impressive-looking website, and then claim that they are accredited by said fake/bogus accreditor. Some of those both fake school and fake accreditor websites can look very professional and sophisticated; and some of the names of the fake/bogus accreditors are sometimes created to sound intentionally confusingly similar to the names of real, USDE- and/or CHEA-approved accreditors. So be careful!
For example, there once was a fake/bogus so-called "accreditor" which called itself "DETC," and which used the .NET version of the real DETC's .ORG domain name. However, DETC, as the rightful owner of that name, used the courts, and the WIPO domain name hearing system, to get that fake DETC's domain name away from it, and to also get its website and operation shut down. Until that happened, though, many degree seekers were misled and ripped-off. Today, though, all common versions of DETC's domain name (the .COM, and the .NET) point toward the real DETC's .ORG website. Were that that were the only example, out there, of such shenanigans, that I could cite. There are many!
Stay away from any school which claims bogus or fake accreditation from an "accreditation mill" (defined as a fake or bogus accreditor which is not either or both of USDE- and/or CHEA-approved). Only schools which have been accredited by agencies approved by either or both of USDE and/or CHEA are legitimate and truly accredited. Down in the "sources and related links" section of this page, beneath these answers, I have added links to the official lists of both USDE- and CHEA-approved accreditors on the USDE and CHEA websites. Stay away from any school which claims alleged accreditation by any so-called "accreditor" which isn't on at least one of those lists!
The only possible exception is an accreditor that's just getting started, and so it must operate for a few years, and show the USDE and/or CHEA that it's legitimate and credible so that it can finally be approved by either or both of USDE and/or CHEA. Such new accreditors would, of course, for at least their first few years of existence, not be USDE- and/or CHEA-approved, even though they're completely credible and operating pursuant to USDE and/or CHEA standards. However, the really credible of such new accreditation start-ups usually have a provable relationship with USDE and/or CHEA; and most of them so respect what the word "accreditation" means, in an educational context, that they won't actually refer to what they do as "accreditation" until they're finally USDE and/or CHEA approved. Until then, they'll tend to call what they do "approval" or "certification," in anticipation of later "accreditation" once they're USDE- and/or CHEA-approved; and the schools which pay them oney for such approval or certification look forward to when the accreditor is finally USDE- and/or CHEA-approved so that their "approval" or "certification" can be turned into real "accreditation." Fortunately, new, start-up accreditors, unlike new, start-up schools, are quite rare. They so rarely happen, in fact, that it's fairly safe to say, just generally, as a rule of thumb, that if the accreditor is not USDE- and/or CHEA-approved, then it's most likely a fake, bogus, "accreditation mill;" and so should be stayed away from, at all costs! Rely only on the lists of real accreditors, as found listed on the USDE and/or CHEA websites, to which I link the reader in the "sources and related links" section, below.
The reason that each "regional" accreditor covers only roughly one-sixth of the US states is not because of any differences in what happens in the regions or anything like that. They did it that way simply because one-sixth of the nation is about all that any one "regional" accreditor can handle. Remember that they handle accreditation for K-12, and all types of post-secondary schools. That's a lot... and so the task was divided-up, by USDE, into six geographical regions. It's as simple as that.
Moreover, each region's standards are approximately identical. A "regionally" accredited school in one region is going to have the same academic and financial standards as any other "regionally" accredited school in any other region; and their respective credits in transfer, or lower-level degrees as requisite for entry into higher-level degree programs, will all be equally respected and acceptable, as "regionally" accredited, regardless in which region they're either earned or proffered.
Additionally, in what USDE region a person obtains his/her degree has nothing, whatsoever, to do with where s/he will or won't either work, or be allowed to work, or anything like that. The answerer, here, who suggested otherwise was just making stuff up... just guessing, based, obviously, on what about it all seemed to make sense to him/her. Again, such as that is shameful in a place like this where readers may be so easily misled.
Whether or not a school is elite also has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. It's important to remember that accreditation, regardless of type, is a minimal standard: the standard of both academic, administrative and financial quality below which the school in question may simply never sink and still have its credits worthy of transfer to other schools; or its finished degrees worthy of being requisite for entry into higher-level degree programs at said other schools.
Accreditation is not an "optimal" standard... something to which schools aspire as evidence of how good they are. Rather, accreditation is a "minimal" standard which evidences how bad that the school in question simply cannot be; the standard below which it simply may not sink, no matter what. That simple thing about educational accreditation is critically important for the reader to understand!
The proof of that accreditation is only a minimal, and not optimal, standard is easy to show, to wit: Both Harvard and Yale (or Princeton, or whatever top US schools one chooses) have exactly the same kind of "regional" accreditation, with the exact same academic standards, as one's local two-year community college. And, believe me, and no one who hasn't fallen on his/her head too many times in life would ever suggest that anyone's local community college is on-par with the likes of Harvard or Yale.
So let's just get the whole, silly "elite" schools business, and what that may or may not mean for what kind of accreditation they have, off the table. The answerer, here, who suggested that that made any difference was also wrong... and irresponsible, to boot!
"National" accreditors came about, in the main, because there began to be a need for specialized accreditation, in addition to the more generalize "regional" accreditation. A need for accreditors that focused on just certain aspects of higher education, or on certain subject areas/professions, or on certain kinds of post-secondary schooling, or on certain specific course delivery modalities, was identified. And so "national" accreditors (with the word "national" having nothing to do with geography) were created; and both USDE and CHEA ended-up approving most of them. Some "national" accreditors are approved by USDE, but not CHEA, and vice versa, for a variety of reasons, an example of which I'll herein cover. Keep reading.
For example: A a course delivery modality -- distance learning -- which everyone agreed deserved its own "national" accreditor, spawned the both USDE- and CHEA-approved national accreditor "Distance Education and Training Counsel" (DETC). All of its accredited schools offer their courses and degrees, in a wide variety of both academic and professional/career areas, primarily via one means or another of distance learning... ranging from old-fashioned correspondence, or by videotape and/or DVD through the US Mail; to online learning of all manners and types using sometimes old-fashioned and sometimes bleeding-edge computer technologies; and pretty much any and all other "distance learning" modalities and types that there are out there.
Yes, many "regionally" accredited schools now also offer all manner of distance learning; and their "regional" accreditation adequately covers that. But DETC was created to help schools that offer pretty much nothing but distance learning to have a way to be academically, administratively and financially credible in the same manner as is evidenced by "regional" accreditation...
...though -- and this is important -- for a much lower cost. It costs a lot of money -- an outrageous amount, in my opinion -- for any school to become "regionally" accredited. "Regional" accreditors, in fact, use that, in my professional opinion, as an intentional barrier to entry for small and start-up schools. I do a lot of writing of both local ordinances and state laws as part of my consulting, and I've learned, the hard way, through Court rulings and their concomitant case law, that government may not use inordinately high license application fees to be an effective barrier to a citizen's being able to obtain a license as long as s/he meets all other reasonable and justifiable licensure requirements. Someone, I've long said, should sue the "regional" accreditors for doing effectively the same thing, just as cities and counties which tried to impede business licensure of undesirable businesses got sued... and lost! I believe that the regional accreditors which gouge applicants with outrageous fees would also lose. I've just not, so far, convinced any small school to step-up and be the test case. Pity. But, alas, now I digress. Sorry.
The "national" accreditor DETC exists, in largest measure, so that smaller schools which specialize in the distance learning modality, and so tend to not earn the kind of money that would allow them to become "regionally" accredited, may nevertheless become accredited by a USDE- and/or CHEA-approved agency; and thereby become just as credible as any "regionally" accredited school... at least in theory.
Though those in academia who prefer "regional" accreditation over "national" accreditation will disagree (though usually based on nothing more than their personal bias), "national" accreditors like DETC have standards which are just as academically, administratively, and financially rigorous as any "regional" accreditor. DETC is, in fact, among the best of the "national" accreditors, and so is most likely, among them, to be on-par in pretty much every way with pretty much any "regional" accreditor. And, to their chagrin, all the "regional" accreditors' wishing otherwise won't change that. The notion that "national" accreditors are somehow inherently sub-standard to "regional" ones is little more than "regional" accreditor propaganda. I discuss this more further down herein.
Other "national" accreditors specialize in subject areas, or professions. For example, the USDE- and/or CHEA-approved accreditors which specialize in accrediting engineering degree programs, or accounting degree programs, or law schools, or dental schools, or nursing schools, etc....
...they're all "national" accreditors. And some of their accreditations are so important to their respective professions that most state government professional licensing agencies -- such as nursing boards, for example; or boards which offer Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licenses; or law licenses; or psychologist licenses, etc. -- will not accept a degree as requisite for sitting for their exams which are not accredited by their respective professions' USDE- and/or CHEA-approved "national" programmatic accreditors. Said boards usually also require that said degrees be generally "regionally" accredited, too. But profession-specific, programmatic "national" accreditation is usually also required by state professional licensing boards.
Similarly, many professions, though not governmentaly licensed, maintain certain self-iimposed standards with regard to how the degrees of those in said professions are "nationally" accredited. For example, though many "regionally" accredited (and even nationally, DETC-for-example-accredited) schools offer Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees, it's very difficult for an MBA-holder to get a serious job in, for example, one of the big national banks or Wall Street firms unless his/her MBA is also "nationally" accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). It's not that the MBA degree holder can't get a good job even if his/her MBA is not AACSB-accredited; however, it's simply true that at the highest levels of employment where an MBA is the dead-minimum educational requirement, said MBA's AACSB accreditation -- in addition to its school's likely also "regional" accreditation -- is essential.
Same thing in the world of religion: The big "national" USDE- and CHEA-approved accreditor of mainline denominational seminaries and schools of theology and divinity is the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS). Pretty much anyone with a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree who plans to be clergy in one of the mainline denominations (Roman Catholicism, the big/main Episcopal denomination in the US, the big/main Presbyterian denomination in the US, the three main/big Lutheran denominations in the US, the big/main Methodist denomination in the US, etc.), had better have gotten said MDiv from an ATS-accredited seminary, even if said seminary was also "regionally" or even "nationally" accredited by some other means, or s/he will likely not be allowed to become clergy in any of those mainline denominations. Or, if s/he ultimately would be, then it would likely only be after s/he spent at least a few months -- maybe a semester or two -- in said denomination's official ATS-accredited seminary.
There are also career/trade/tech-school "national" accreditors: accreditors which specialize in helping career, trade and technical schools and colleges maintain high academic, administrative and financial standards, despite that said schools tend to want to just teach the kinds of non-academic courses that will best prepare their students for the hands-on work and career for which they're training. Such schools train, hands-on, for things like automobile or motorcycle repair, dental or medical assisting, medical billing, becoming a journeyman electrician, becoming one of the lower-level (non-RN) types of nurses (an LPN or LVN), etc. These career/trade/tech school "national" accreditors tend to be the most controversial (and some say they've given "national" accreditation a bad name) because they really do only require the dead minimum amount of true academic rigor from their accredited schools as is minimally necessary so that as many as possible of said schools' courses may be devoted to the hands-on caeer training part.
Such academically minimal standards drive nuts those in legitimate academia at "regionally" (and even some "nationally") accredited schools because they value real and serious academic rigor, and not all this non-academic and hands-on career training coursework that trade/career/tech schools offer. They, in their bias, want all degrees to consist, primarily, of only academically rigorous courses in the sciences, in the arts and humanities, etc. And so that, in the main, is how "national" accreditation started to get a bad name among academicians...
...usually academicians who haven't bothered to realize that it is only the trade/career/tech post-secondary schools which offer the dead minimum of true academic rigor that's necessary for their degrees to still be worthy of USDE- and/or CHEA-approved accreditation. All other "national" accreditors have pretty much the same standards with regard to academic rigor as any "regional" accreditor. The "national" accreditors just charge less money!
And so, yes, it's true that some "national" career/trade/tech school accreditors have comparatively less academically rigorous standards, generally speaking. However, that's only for their accredited schools' non-academic courses. The general education courses that such schools teach which are the same as what "regionally" accredited schools teach -- things like English Composition, College Algebra, etc. -- are exactly the same, in terms of academic rigor, as what "regionally" accredited schools teach. And said "nationally" accredited career/tech/trade schools must nevertheless be as administratively and financially sound as any "regionally" accredited school. Even their hands-on, career-training courses must still meet the same kinds of basic standards as any "regionally" accredited school in terms of the number of clock hours, both in the classroom, and doing homework, which must be invested by the student in order to earn three (3) semester credit hours of credit for a given course.
So, then, even the often maligned career/trade/tech school accreditor, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), is given a bad rap by those in "regionally" accredited academia, simply because it allows less-academically-rigorous (but nevertheless stll mathematically worthy of three semester credit hours of college-level credit) hands-on, career training courses, alongside the legitimately academic courses it also requires of its schools.
That said, it really is possible for a USDE-approved "national" accreditor to be fairly objectively bad. The career/trade/tech school accreditor, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) is not very good...
...so much so, in fact, that USDE approves it as an accreditor, but CHEA won't have anything to do with it. And rightly so. In my educational consulting experience, I've observed that ACCSC's standards, just generally speaking, border on objectively sub-par. And so, then, any school accredited by it tends to have a fairly poor reputation. ACICS, on the other hand, is a head-and-shoulders better "national" career/trade/tech school accreditor than is ACCSC... hence the reason that both USDE and CHEA approve ACICS, but only USDE approves ACCSC.
And I could go on and on with other examples; but, hopefully, what I've herein provided about "national" accreditors helps the reader to really and truly understand them, as oppsed to "regional" ones. "Regional" accreditation, though, remains the preferred, "go to" kind of accreditation. Here's why...
"Regional accreditation" is a term that most people use interchangeably with the word "accreditation." For them, "regional" accreditation is the only kind they know or have ever heard of, and so when they say "regional accreditation," they really just mean "accreditation." For them, it can be surprising to learn that there's any other kind. That's, in part, because every public elementary school, middle school and high school across the nation is "regionally" accredited... most private ones, too. Also, virtually every both public and private college, university, seminary, and even some career/trade/tech school(s) in most US states are "regionally" accredited. There is no question, then, that "regional" accreditation is the "big dog" on the block when it comes to accreditation, just generally.
"Regional" accreditation is thought of, by many in academia as the "gold standard" of accreditation. Many employers -- including both those who don't know there's any other kind, as well as those who do, but who see "regional" as an inherently superior kind -- agree. And -- and this is key -- most "regionally" accredited colleges and universities see "regional" accreditation as the only kind worth having; the only kind that's any good; the only kind that anyone need bother with or respect.
Sadly, that's an arrogance mostly proffered and maintained by the "regional" accreditors, and their brainwashed "regionally accredited" schools. And the reason, in the main, is that "regionally" accredited schools wand everyone to only attend them, and to ignore the "nationally" accredited schools... for largely financial reasons, of course. Consequently, if an applicant for admission at a "regionally" accredited school presents with a "nationally" accredited degree (or transfer credits) and offers same as requisite for entry into a higher-level (or any, for that matter) degree at said "regionally" accredited school, then it's quite possible (though, gratefully, becoming less and less so, with every passing year, because of the HETA program, described in the next paragraph) that said applicant's "nationally" accredited degree (or transfer credits) will likely be summarily rejected as requisite for entry into the higher-level (or any, for that matter) "regionally" accredited degree program. Not all "regionally" accredited schools are so arrogant, but many still are.
CHEA sees that as a huge problem, and so it launched, a few years ago, its "Higher Education Transfer Alliance" (HETA) program (see the link to it in the "sources and related links" section, below) to educate schools about the credibility of all accreditation, as long as it's USDE- and/or CHEA-approved; and to encourage all schools, be they "regionally" or "nationally" accredited, to respect one another's accreditation, and to allow either "regionally" or "nationally" accredited credits to equally transfer between either "regionally" or "nationally" accredited schools; and/or to allow either "regionally" or "nationally" accredited lower-level degrees to be equally acceptable at both "regionally" and "nationally" accredited schools as requisite for entry into higher-level degree programs.
Sadly, while that all works nicely on paper, the cold, harsh reality is that "regional" accreditation tends to be the coin of the realm with most employers, with much of government, and especially among the "regionally" accredited schools out there. For many of them, the HETA program means little or nothing. For many of them, if the degree isn't "regionally" accredited, then it's not really worth anything. They're wrong, of course, but since they're the ones, ignorant or not, who decide whether a person with a degree will or won't be hired, or will or won't be allowed to obtain professional licensure, or will or won't be admitted to a "regionally" accredited degree program, then what they believe matters, like it or not.
For that reason, even though "nationally" accrredited schools and their degrees are every bit as academically rigorous and valid and impressive as most "regionally" accredited ones, I always advise degree seekers to be painfully aware of the regional-is-better-than-national bias out there. It's always better to just play it safe and go to the the "regionally" accredited school, and get its "regionally" accredited degree. Only if the "nationally" accredited school and its degree will positively serve the degree-seeker's ultimate career or vocational or educational enlightenment needs should said "nationally" accredited school and its degree be chosen over the "regionally" accredited one.
It's a pity -- actually, it borders on criminal, in my personal opinion -- that that's how things are in the real world, but it is what it is; and all my wishing in the world won't change that. All I can do is try to educate people, like I'm herein doing, as to the real truth of it all, and than hope that sometime in the not too distant future the goals of CHEA's HETA program are finally met; and that all schools, as long as their accreditation is either or both of USDE- and/or CHEA-approved, will treat one another equally; and also that all employers, and government professional licensing agencies, will do the same.
In the meantime, though, yes, there is a difference between "national" and "regional" accreditation; and it's important for those who deign to proffer reasons why, in places like this, to bother to get it right. The first answerers, here, did not so bother... and so degree-seekers gott misled. Shame, again, on them.
There are really two "bottom lines" for degree-seekers. The first is to ensure that whatever school one attends is accredited by a USDE- and/or CHEA-approved agency. The second is to ensure that a "regionally" accredited school and degree is chosen, unless there's a compelling reason to go with "national" accreditation. And I say, again, that it's a pity that that's the way things are!
Determining that a given school is accredited by either or both of a USDE- and/or CHEA-approved agency is as simple as taking literally only 30 seconds to look-up the school in either or both of the USDE and/or CHEA online databases, on their respective websites. I've provided the links to said databases down in the "sources and related links" section, beneath these answers, on this webpage. If any school that one is considering attending isn't listed in one or the other (or both) of those USDE and/or CHEA databases, then said school is not accredited, no matter what it claims...
...and don't forget that degree/diploma mills will shameless claim that they're accredited, even when nothing could be further from the truth. They'll argue it, in fact, to the death. Don't believe them, though. If the school isn't listed in either or both of the USDE and/or CHEA databases of accredited schools, then said school is not accredited. Period. Simple as that. Believe and act on nothing else!
All that said, yes, it's actually possible for a completely good and legitimate school to not be listed in either the USDE and/or CHEA database if said school is a brand new start-up. All new schools must operate for a few years, and graduate a certain number of students, before they may apply for USDE- and/or CHEA-approved accreditation... be it "regional" or "national" accreditation. And so, yes, brand new schools will not be listed in either the USDE or CHEA databases for the first few yeas of their operation, yet they're usually not rip-off degree/diploma mills.
The problem, though, with daring to enroll in such unaccredited, but nevertheless credible new schools is that if they don't become accredited before the student finally graduates, then said student ends-up with an unaccredited degree, for life, even if the school from which s/he earned it later becomes accredited. Whether or not a degree is accredited is determined by whether or not the school that awarded it was accredited at the time said degree was awarded. That's why, also, some people have accredited degrees, even though the school from which they earned it somehow subsequently lost its accreditation. Again, whethher or not a given degree is accreditated depends, entirely, on whether or not the school from which it was earned was accredited at the moment the finished degree was awarded.
And having an unaccredited degree, even from a school which, subsequent to said degree's awarding, become accredited, is not good. I'm not saying that all unaccredited schools and degrees are worthless. As my examples, below, illustrate, nothing could be further from the truth. However, there are some very serious lifetime downsides to getting an unaccredited degree, as I'll explain in a moment. So important is it that even a brand new school should be considered suspect if it does not, as soon as it is finally able, apply for either "national" or "regional" accreditation.
I've always hounded, for example, Rockbridge Seminary for that. It's a perfectly credible seminary (though way too both theologically and socio-politically conservative for at least my tastes); however, once it had been in business long enough, and had graduated enough students that it could finally apply for accreditation, it did not; and it continued to operate for way too long, in my opinion, as an unaccredited school. This began to make it a bit suspect, in my mind. Lots of new schools start-out with good intentions, and claim that they'll be seeking accreditation as soon as they're able, yet they never do. And they become less and less credible, over time, in part because of it...
...until they're finally offering nothing but worthless credentials, and become little more than a degree/diploma mill. The nefarious Trinity Bible College and Seminary, in Newburgh, Indiana, is a classic examplee of that. And, sadly, such patterns are especially true with religious schools. That, just so the reader knows, is because religious schools, in many states, are very easy to start-up because said states have language in their higher education regulation laws which specifically exempt from said regulation any and all religious colleges, universities and seminaries. Therefore, many new religious schools start-up which are under-funded, poorly run, and so never really have a chance, despite their original good intentions, of becoming accredited, even after they've been in business long enough, and have graduated enough students.
Sadly, though, there's another, more nefarious reason why religious schools often have less-than-laudible histories, and that's because the very religious exemption I cited in the previous paragraph is often seen by degree/diploma mill operators as a convenience legal loophole which they then use to start-up religious schools, and then claim the state law exemption so they may operate with impunity. Most states, though, have finally figured that out, and so said loophole is now finally closed in most of them. Still, it has given religious schools -- which one would think, just categorically, would be honest -- a bad name in many academic circles.
In any case, getting back to Rockbridge Seminary: I see that, as of this writing, it is finally an official candidate for DETC accreditation. Good! I'm sure it will get it. Again, I'm not wild about its conservatism, but Rockbridge is a nevertheless good seminary. I wish it luck, then, getting accredited. But now I digress, again. Sorry, again.
There actually are situations in which an unaccredited school's degree could still be useful. California, for example, has unaccredited schools which are nevertheless approved by various state professional licensing agencies such that even the unaccredited degrees from them will nevertheless qualify their holders to sit for professional state licensing exams, and to ultimately become professionally state licensed if said exams are passed.
For example, California has several unaccredited colleges/universities that are nevertheless approved by the state's various psychological professions licensing boards; and which offer degrees in psychology and counseling which, when accompanied by several hundred or even thousand hours of practica, will qualify their holders to sit for such as the "Marriage and Family Therapist" (MFT), or the "Licensed Clinical Social Worker" (LCSW), or even the "licensed psychologist" exams; and then to become state licensed in those professions upon passing same.
Or, another example: California's Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) approves several both night-and-weekend and in-classroom, as well as even entirely online law schools which are nevertheless not accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), like pretty much all other law schools in the country. However, the graduates of these CBE-approved, but not ABA-accredited night-and-weekend and/or online law schools may, if they meet/satisfy all other requirements, nevertheless sit for California's Bar Exam and, if passed, to be admitted to the bar, and become licensed attorneys at law. Moreover, the bar card in the pockets of said lawyers are the exact same color, and say the exact same thing on them, as those in the pockets of graduates from the more-impressive, ABA-accredited law schools; and said lawyers from CBE-approved, but not ABA-accredited law schools may practice in all the same courts of law, in all the same areas and ways, as lawyers who graduated from ABA-accredited law schools. In fact, if they take the additional CBE-offered/approved specialist courses, they may even be listed, alongside any other lawyer, in the state's legal specialist directores.
So, then, it's not that an unaccredited, but nevertheless objectively and provably credible college/university can have no value. It can, indeed. But even an objectively and provably credible school's credits will likely not transfer to even a "nationally" (and especially to a "regionally") accredited school; nor, likely, will the unaccredited school's finished degrees be acceptable to either "nationally" or "regionally" accredited schools as requisite for entry into their higher-level degree programs. I'm not saying it never happens, but I'm just saying that it's highely unlikely. There are always interesting exceptions (though usually only for demonstrably exceptional people... as is true in much of life).
In the case of the CBE-approved, but not ABA-accredited California law schools, only around half (actually, a bit less) of the other 50 US states will allow their graduates to ever sit for their respective state Bar exams, and then to practice law in said states. Most US states require that their licensed attorneys-at-law be graduates of ABA-accredited law schools. And even among the less than half of the 50 US states that will ultimately allow graduates of CBE-approved, but not ABA-accredited law schools to sit for their Bar exams, most require that said graduates have first practiced law in California for several (usually 7, give or take, depending on the state) years before s/he may ever sit for said other state's Bar exam. Only Wisconsin, it turns out, will allow a California CBE-approved, but not ABA-accredited law school graduate to sit for its state Bar exam more or less immediately after graduation; but even then, Wisconsin requires that said graduate pass the California Bar Exam, first, and then be admitted to its Bar first (but not to have actually practiced law, there), before it will then allow him/her to sit for the Wisconsin Bar Exam and become admitted there, too. All other states which allow those with Calfornia CBE-approved, but not also ABA-accredited law degrees to eventually sit for their respective Bar exams require admission to California's bar, and then a few years of law practice in California, first.
A couple or three other US states have similar situations: that is, unaccredited, but nevertheless state-approved law schools which qualify their graduates to sit for their respective states' bar exams, and then, if passed, to become licensed to practice law in said states. Let me think... I believe Tennessee is one... then... um... oh, yeah, Massachusetts... and then... wait... there's at least one more. Oh, well, I can't remember, and don't want to bother to look it up; but my point is that California's not alone in at least that sort of unaccredited, but nevertheless objectively and provably credible schools thing. But I still wouldn't recommend ever fiddling with an unaccredited school if it can be avoided.
Accreditation really matters. Messing around with unaccredited schools, even if they're provably and objectively credible, is, generally speaking, a big waste of time. Yes, they can be useful in certain circumstances, some examples of which I've just provided. However, why even fiddle with it? It, in the end, is usually just not worth it. Always stick, then, with an accredited school; with "accredited" meaning only by an agency that's either or both of USDE- and/or CHEA-approved.
Beyond that, whether the school is "nationally" or "regionally" accredited, and which one should choose, depends on what the degree-seeker is ultimately trying to accomplish. Yes, "nationally" accredited schools are often less expensive than "regionally" accredited schools tend to me... sometimes considerably so, as one previous answerer correctly mentioned. And so, if one's finances are severely limited, then a "nationally" accredited school may be one's only choice. However -- and this is important -- it's not that difficult to find very affordable "regionally" accredited schools. There are enough of them out there, in fact, that money, alone, should pretty much never be the reason that one chooses a "nationally" accredited school over a "regionally" accredited one. And since many of the most affordable "regionally" accredited schools know that they will be, because of their low costs, attractive to students from across the nation or even around the world, most of them have potent distance learning programs through which even out-of-state (or even out-of-country) students could save a ton of money on even "regionally" accredited coursework! So, then, cost, alone, should never force anyone to get a "nationally" accredited degree if one would really and truly prefer a "regionally" accredited one.
In the end, because of academia's (and most employers', and most of government's) bias against "nationally" accredited schools in favor of "regionally" accredited ones -- no matter how irrational and unfair; and despite what CHEA's HETA is trying to accomplish -- it's generally safer and better for the degree-seeker to attend a "regionally" accredited school if at all possible.
I, personally, just hate that that's the way things are; but other than helping people to understand it all, as I'm herein doing, there's not really very much I can do to change any of it. Oh, sure, occasionally I'm retained, as a consultant, to represent a degree-seeker who has a "nationally" accredited bachelors degree, for example, who's attempting to use it as requisite for entry into a "regionally" accredited masters degree program, but is having said "nationally" accredited bachelors degree summarily rejected. And so I will sit down with the "regionally" accredited school's registrar and admissions department and educate it/them about the realities of "national" versus "regional" accreditation; and I'm usually able, ultimately, to disabuse the "regionally" accredited school of its anti-"national"-accreditation bias. However, it's an uphill battle, and I don't always win. Some "regionally" accredited schools are intransigent about their insensible biases, and that's the long and short of it. Still, when I win, it's nice because from that day forward, the "regionally" accredited school tends to be more open-minded, and to comply, intentionally or not, with the goals CHEA's HETA program... heck, some of them even join it, and then advertise it! And that's very cool. In that sense, then, I suppose I'm changing things, one school at a time. But that's not the kind of change, nor the speed with which it should happen, that higher education truly needs.
Finally, regarding "national" versus "regional" accreditation at the high school level: Always, always, always, no matter what, make sure that your high school diploma is "regionally" accredited. I'm sorry, DETC and the other "national" accreditors which accredit high school programs, but that is the best advice I can give. Enough "regionally" accredited colleges/universities won't accept a "nationally" accredited high school diploma that it's just not worth messing around with one.
Even the "nationally" accredited colleges which also offer high school programs know this; and so they've all made sure that even if their college degrees are only "nationally" accredited, at least their high school diplomas are, impressively, "regionally" accredited. For example, the two big players in "nationally" accredited career and business (and other) certificates, diplomas and degrees -- Penn Foster College, and Ashworth College -- both offer only "regionally" accredited high school diplomas, even though their post-secondary college certificates, diplomas and degrees are "nationally" accredited by DETC. They understand that a "nationally" accredited high school diploma has almost no usefulness in the real world, and so they don't even dare offer one. Kudos to them, for that. The two of them may be pejoratively known as the sort of "Wal-Mart of higher education" because they offer their DETC-accredited degree courses almost as if they were blister-packed and hanging on a retail store gondola, but they at least know better than to mess around with anything but "regionally" accredited high school diplomas. My hat's off to 'em for that...
...and the reader, here, should take a lesson from it: Only a "regionally" accredited high school diploma is worth having; and one should only dare get a "nationally" accredited (instead of a "regionally" accredited) degree if one completely understands what one is getting into, and how a "nationally" (instead of a "regionally") accredited degree might ultimately hurt one. As long as one's eyes are wide open about it, then, fine. But just make sure that that is, in fact, the case.
Only if the school and/or its degree is professional and/or programmatically specialized in some way, and so also requires a programmatic "national" accreditation of some kind, in addition to its general overall "regional" accreditation, so that said degree will be credible in whatever is its profession or industry, should it be pursued.
So, then, that should, once and for all, pretty much clear-up the whole business about "national" versus "regional" accreditation. Bottom line: Stick with "regional," unless you've really done your homework and have determined that "national" will served you just as well. And even then, because of the insensible bias out there in the world, try to stick with "regional," regardless, just to play it safe. One never knows, as one ages, how one's career might change; and if one gets a "nationally" accredited degree because it's fine for one kind of career early in life, one might later find, if one changes careers, that said "nationally" accredited degree might actually hurt one. So, to play it safe, much as I hate to recommend it, stick with "regional" accreditation at every possible opportunity. It's just safer.