29 States Where Non-Accredited Universities Can't Operate

January 29, 2024
29 States Where Non-Accredited Universities Can't Operate
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The road to build a recognized college or university in the United States is both ambitious and rewarding. Investors and educational entrepreneurs, motivated by a desire to shape minds and futures, are frequently at the vanguard of this difficult but rewarding journey. However, the path to accreditation is filled with difficult considerations, legal complexities, and strategic choices, particularly when it comes to state selection.

Navigating the State Authorization Landscape

When considering where to establish a new university, the choice of state is crucial, particularly for non-accredited institutions. In the U.S., there is a patchwork of state regulations governing higher education. Some states have stringent requirements for non-accredited institutions, effectively making it impossible to operate without accreditation.

The 29 Restrictive States 

In states like Colorado, Massachusetts, and Ohio, the regulatory environment is such that non-accredited institutions face significant barriers. These states mandate accreditation as a precondition for various operational aspects, including student enrollment and program offerings. The reasons vary – from ensuring educational quality to protecting students from fraudulent practices. Here is the full list of these states as of the date of writing this blog post (as other states are joining the list every year);

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. Colorado
  4. Connecticut
  5. Delaware
  6. Hawaii
  7. Idaho
  8. Illinois
  9. Indiana
  10. Iowa
  11. Kansas
  12. Kentucky
  13. Maryland
  14. Massachusetts
  15. Michigan
  16. Mississippi
  17. Montana
  18. Nebraska
  19. New Mexico
  20. North Dakota
  21. Ohio
  22. Oklahoma
  23. Oregon
  24. Rhode Island
  25. South Carolina
  26. South Dakota
  27. Utah
  28. West Virginia
  29. Wyoming

Impact on Investors

For an investor, this means that these 29 states are less viable for setting up a non-accredited institution. The focus should be on states with more accommodating regulatory environments for non-accredited institutions, at least until the institution achieves accreditation.

Strategic Planning

Choosing a state is not just about avoiding regulatory hurdles; it's also about finding a supportive environment where the institution can thrive. This involves considering factors like the state's higher education landscape, demand for certain types of education, and economic factors that could impact student enrollment and institutional growth.

Alternative Pathways

For new institutions, there are alternative pathways to consider. Some choose to operate as religious institutions, which in some states are exempt from certain accreditation requirements. Others may start as vocational or professional schools, which sometimes have different standards. However, these pathways also come with their own sets of challenges and regulations.

The ideal alternative is to open your college or university in one of the other less restrictive states, and obtain your accreditation while operating in this state, and then obtain a license as an accredited institution in the state of your choice. Remember that accreditation is your key to a lot of advantages, including student funding and student visas. 

Understanding Accreditation

Accreditation, in its essence, is a seal of approval. It’s a recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other accredited schools or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The process involves rigorous evaluation by external bodies, ensuring that the institution meets predefined academic and administrative standards.

The Intricacies of Accreditation in the U.S.

Accreditation in the U.S. is more than just a formal process; it's a journey of transformation and validation for any higher education institution. It's about aligning your college or university to nationally recognized standards of excellence and academic integrity.

  • Understanding Accreditation: Think of accreditation as a vigorous health check for educational institutions. It assesses everything from academic quality, governance, administration, faculty competence, resource allocation, student support services, to learning outcomes. This rigorous process ensures that institutions not only meet specific standards of quality but also engage in continuous improvement.
  • Choosing an Accreditor: The United States does not have a central governmental body overseeing accreditation. Instead, it relies on a network of independent accrediting agencies, each with its specific focus and standards. For example, there are regional accreditors, like the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and national accreditors like the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.
  • The Self-Evaluation Phase: Here, the institution conducts an in-depth self-study, analyzing its programs and services in the context of the accreditor’s standards. This phase is akin to looking in a mirror, recognizing both strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Peer Review: After the self-study, external reviewers conduct an assessment. They visit the campus, review materials, and interview stakeholders. This stage provides an external perspective, essential for maintaining objectivity and ensuring compliance with standards.
  • Ongoing Assessment and Renewal: Accreditation is not permanent. Institutions must regularly undergo reevaluation to maintain their status. It's a continuous journey of self-improvement, adapting to evolving educational landscapes and maintaining high standards.

The Roadmap to Accreditation

1. Develop a Vision and Mission

Crafting Your Educational Philosophy: This is about identifying the core of what your institution represents. Are you aiming to be a cradle of innovation, like Stanford University, or a bastion of leadership and excellence, akin to Harvard? Your institution's vision and mission should reflect its unique identity and aspirations.

Setting the Tone: Your vision will set the tone for all operational, academic, and strategic decisions. It's not just a statement; it's the guiding star for your institution's journey. It influences your curriculum, your faculty recruitment, and even the kind of students you aim to attract.

2. Design Robust Academic Programs

Curriculum Development: This involves creating a curriculum that is not only academically sound but also relevant to the current and future landscape of higher education. Whether you're focusing on liberal arts, like Amherst College, or a technology-centric approach like MIT, the key is to ensure your programs are rigorous, innovative, and aligned with industry needs.

Incorporating Diverse Perspectives: The curriculum should also reflect a global perspective, preparing students to be not just experts in their fields but also well-rounded individuals capable of navigating an increasingly interconnected world.

3. Build a Qualified Faculty and Infrastructure

Recruiting Top Talent: The faculty is the heart of any academic institution. Investing in experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate educators is crucial. They are not just teachers; they are mentors, researchers, and the driving force behind the institution's academic reputation.

Creating a Conducive Learning Environment: Similarly, the infrastructure of your university plays a significant role. This means not just state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories, but also libraries, student centers, and virtual learning platforms. The goal is to create an ecosystem that supports learning, research, and innovation, much like the environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

4. Fulfill State Requirements and Obtain Licensing

Understanding State Regulations: Before you can even consider accreditation, you must navigate the labyrinth of state regulations. This involves understanding and complying with the specific requirements of the state where your institution will operate.

Obtaining the Necessary Licensing: This step is about securing the legal authorization to operate as an educational institution. It's a complex process that involves not just proving your academic readiness but also financial stability and compliance with state education standards.

The Role of Legal and Accreditation Consultants

Given the complexity of state regulations and accreditation processes, it is often advisable for investors and founders to seek professional legal and accreditation consulting. These experts can provide guidance on navigating the regulatory landscape, understanding the nuances of accreditation, and developing strategies for establishing a compliant and successful institution.

Closing Thoughts

Going on this adventure is not for the faint of heart. It requires vision, effort, and a strong commitment to educational excellence. But the rewards are enormous. Accredited institutions serve as beacons of knowledge, influencing the future one student at a time.

For investors, this is more than simply a financial endeavor; it's a legacy in the making. Imagine the pride you'd feel if your school was known nationally and globally for its quality, and its alumni were in high demand for their knowledge and talents.

Remember Nelson Mandela's words as you embark on this journey: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Your investment in education is an investment in the future, an opportunity to make a tangible and long-term effect in the lives of students and the fabric of society.

In conclusion, choose your state wisely, embrace the accreditation process, and be prepared for a challenging yet deeply rewarding journey. The path to establishing an accredited university in the United States is complex and demanding, but for those with the vision and determination, it’s a journey worth taking.

Be sure to check out free to download premium tools like “Open Your University Toolkit”.

For personalized guidance, feel free to reach out to Expert Education Consultants via email at info@experteduconsult.com with any questions you may have. This service is complimentary.

To explore customized solutions tailored to your specific needs, schedule a personalized one-on-one paid consultation with Dr. Sandra Norderhaug here.

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