College and university students, as well as their families, invest significant time, money, and energy into selecting a school and then seeing their efforts through to graduation. Although the overall costs can be considerable, the payoff is almost always worth it. The real risk lies in not going to college, as the results of a Pew Research Center study illustrated:
- In 2012 dollars, the median annual wage for someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher is $15,000 more ($45,500 versus $30,000) than the one for an associate’s degree holder, and larger still than the compensation for a high school graduate ($28,000).
- The unemployment rate for workers with at least a 4-year degree is a fraction of what it is for ones with only high school educations – 3.8 percent versus 12.2 percent, respectively. Poverty rates are also much lower for college graduates than the general population.
- The pay gap between college and noncollege populations has increased over time, with millennials seeing a $17,500 annual difference in salary. But almost one-third (31 percent) of millennials have some regrets about career preparations they made during college, a higher number than for members of previous generations.
What can students do to ensure that they get the most out of a college degree program? It is not as simple as them picking a concentration, such as health information management, that is connected to a rapidly growing industry with a wide range of excellent career prospects. They must also look for properly accredited institutions.
Accreditation is essential in establishing the credibility of a college or university. More specifically, it signals to peer institutions and to professional organizations and potential employers that the degrees it grants are worth recognizing.
For its students, a school’s accreditation is also the accepted way of ensuring its educational programs meet agreed-upon quality standards. Accreditation is available through several avenues:
This is the most common form of accreditation for not-for-profits postsecondary schools. There is a network of accrediting bodies that accredit by region. Regionally accredited schools typically only accept transfer credits from other accredited institutions. The relevant accreditors here are the:
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education.
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
- Higher Learning Commission.
Less common than regional accreditation, national accreditation is largely the province of vocational and trade schools, many of which are for-profit. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the accreditors in this realm, which include bodies such as Distance Education Accrediting Council and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Schools offering HIM programs can further distinguish their programs by obtaining accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). This council accredits associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree tracks in HIM.
CAHIIM sets a number of curricular, administrative, and personnel requirements for HIM programs. For a bachelor’s degree track, these standards include:
- Pre-existing accreditation and eligibility for federal student financial assistance.
- “Outcome-focused” program mission and goals.
- A commitment to the ethics and principles of the HIM field.
- Annual assessment of curricula based on feedback from students, faculty, alumni, employers, etc.
- Graduates who are competent in at least entry-level curricular standards set by The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
- A curriculum that meets or exceeds AHIMA standards for course content.
- A minimum of 2 full-time faculty members committed to the HIM program.
- Guaranteed health and safety for the students and patients involved in any HIM educational activities.
- Proper documentation of student records for admission, advisement, and evaluation.
Choose an Accredited Program for the Best Results
By selecting a regionally and CAHIIM-accredited program in HIM, a student ensures that he or she has access to the best educational opportunities for both personal growth and career development. HIM is a field with many expected job openings over the next few years: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that jobs for medical and health services managers will grow 17 percent between 2014 and 2024, or much faster than average for all professions.
With a median salary of $94,500 per year, these professionals make much more than the national median, and many have only a bachelor’s degree along with five years or fewer of experience in a related field. Accordingly, an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution is the optimal first step toward a productive career in the HIM sector.
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