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Consumer Information > State Approval, Accreditation & Licensure

Educational Institutions Authorized in Illinois

In considering whether an institution is appropriate to your needs, you should consider three things:

  • Is the institution approved by the state of Illinois?
  • Is the institution accredited by a recognized accrediting body?
  • Does your major require licensing and, if so, does the licensing body recognize your prospective institution’s credentials?

Each of these is discussed below.

State Approval

People are often confused between accreditation and state approval. Quite simply, accreditation is a function that is voluntary. State approval is a different matter. In Illinois, any institution that claims to offer degrees must be approved or recognized by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. You can find a list of these institutions at List of Approved Institutions in Illinois. Out-of-state institutions that have been approved to operate certain programs in Illinois can be found at List of Out-of-State Institutions. New programs are approved by the Board of Higher Education based on compliance with quality criteria.


When you're looking around at Illinois schools, be sure the institution you select is accredited. Accreditation, by various nonprofit bodies, guarantees that the degree granted by an institution meets the accrediting body’s standards of quality and content. While you can find all manner of rankings of colleges and universities, and of individual programs within these institutions, accreditation ensures that the same degrees from different institutions meet a common set of quality standards, and that courses taken at one will likely be accepted by another similarly accredited institution, should you need to transfer. This does not mean that they are all equal, but it means they are somewhat comparable.

There are three basic kinds of accreditation that you should know about when selecting a college or school: regional accreditation, national accreditation, and specialized accreditation. In a nutshell, national accreditation looks at particular kinds of institutions such as theological seminaries; regional accreditation looks at multipurpose institutions such as community colleges and universities; and specialized accreditation looks at particular programs such as teacher certification, nursing, engineering, medicine, and law. To find out more about how accreditation works in the U.S., you may want refer to Council for Higher Education Accreditation or U.S. Department of Education. If you would like to check the accreditation of a specific college, please refer to Institutional Accreditation system or contact the institution.

Unfortunately, some institutions claim accreditation from agencies like the Association of Online Academic Excellence, the World Association of Universities and Colleges, and the Association of Private Colleges and Universities. These organizations are NOT recognized by Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education. Don't be misled by organizations not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as accrediting agencies.

Professional Licensure, Registration, or Certification

Each state licenses, registers, and/or certifies certain occupations. This is a function distinct from higher education. For example, the practice of medicine and law are regulated in each state, and persons seeking to practice these professions must obtain a license to do so. To become licensed, a certain amount or type of education is commonly required, but not always. In Illinois, there are approximately 20 agencies that regulate, in one form or another, practice in occupations ranging from art auction house owners to wild game and bird breeders to optometrists. You should check with the college or university you are considering attending to make sure that its programs allow you to become licensed, registered, or certified in the profession you wish to enter after completing your education. The general distinctions between these are*:

  • Licensure: This is the most restrictive form of occupational regulation. It prohibits anyone from engaging in the occupational activities without permission from a government agency designated by a licensing law to issue such a license (e.g. licensed practical nurse).

  • Certification: Unlike licensure, this regulation method does not legally prohibit individuals from engaging in the regulated occupation. However, it prohibits individuals from using a specified title. For example, anyone may practice accounting but only those persons who meet state and occupational standards may call themselves “certified public accountants.”

  • Registration: A very general term that sometimes means title control as discussed above under ”certification,” or it may simply mean that the law requires an individual who wishes to engage in a given occupation to register with a designated government agency (e.g. registered lobbyist).

* Illinois: State Licensed, Certified and Registered Occupation, Illinois Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, Springfield, Illinois, November 2001

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