Educational Accreditation: Critically Important, Often Misunderstood
Michael D. Sharp
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December 21, 2010
Most students and parents do not understand the nature and importance of accreditation. They assume that a college, website, or church is telling them the truth about the value of the education they offer, and would never mislead them. This makes those who mislead these trusting people all the more guilty. We recommend that parents and students pursuing education in any field, including the ministry, carefully research the accreditation status of prospective schools. Never simply trust what a website or a minister tells you! The website may be intentionally misleading, and even well meaning ministers may be unintentionally misinformed.
Several of our Assemblies of God universities now have fully accredited distance education programs. Our leader in this field is Global University. Global offers a full spectrum of educational opportunities, from free local church discipleship courses, to Berean School of the Bible institute level courses, to fully accredited bachelors and masters programs. Whether you are a layperson or already a credentialed minister, you may take university level courses from Global to add depth and breadth to your equipping for ministry. In conjunction with Berean School of the Bible at Global University, the Alabama District Presbytery created Alabama School of Ministry (ALSOM) to facilitate the institute level education of people seeking ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God, as well as laity who wish to receive formal instruction in the Bible, theology, and administration. ALSOM uses Berean textbooks and credentialed ministers as instructors, offering this educational opportunity at reduced rates and excellent convenience. ALSOM and Berean make it very clear that, while providing excellent beginning level preparation for ministry, ALSOM and Berean are not accredited at the college level.
If you want to do college level work, it is very important that you obtain your college education from a properly accredited institution. This includes educational preparation for ministry. There are many Internet sites and some brick-and-mortar campuses that call themselves colleges, seminaries, and universities, claim to have some kind of accreditation, and claim to offer all levels of authentic degrees, but in reality all of their claims are false. Since the problem of bogus degree mills and accreditation mills continues to plague Christian higher education, I recently interviewed Dr. David Moore of the Assemblies of God Alliance for Higher Education on the subject. If you are pursuing a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree, our Fellowship recommends that you consider one of our Assemblies of God schools first, or if not that then another regionally accredited college or university. This includes educational preparation for ministry.
Accreditation is not a fluid term that you may define as you wish. “In the United States, accreditation is a non-governmental, peer-review process that assures the quality of the postsecondary education students receive. Educational institutions or programs volunteer to undergo this review periodically to determine if certain criteria are being met. … There are two types of accreditation: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation evaluates overall institutional quality. One form of institutional accreditation is regional accreditation of colleges and universities. Specialized accreditation examines specific programs of study, rather than an institution as a whole. This type of accreditation is granted to specific programs at specific levels. Architecture, nursing, law, medicine, and engineering programs are often evaluated through specialized accreditation.” (http://www.abet.org/the_basics.shtml) Accreditation is peer review, not government review.
In a genuine accreditation process, academic professionals from properly accredited universities evaluate every aspect of an institution of higher education. They validate academic standards, course content, faculty qualifications, facilities, resources, library quality and quantity, student development, mission fulfillment, and much more. They assure the credibility and sustainability of the institution through any transitions in leadership or faculty.
An unaccredited or improperly accredited institution has NO real accountability for their educational product. They have no peer reviewed standards and protocols. Their degrees are not generally recognized, and their credits will generally not transfer to accredited institutions. When you see an institution try to explain away their lack of accreditation, or claim they are avoiding government interference, or cite an unrecognized accrediting agency, you should NOT use that institution. A degree mill may claim to be accredited on its website, but the accrediting agency has often been created by the degree mill itself! Hence the term “accreditation mill.”
The gold standard of accreditation is regional accreditation. This highest level of accreditation does NOT limit our religious freedom or open the door to government control in any way. All of our major Assemblies of God colleges, universities, and seminary have regional accreditation, and some have additional specialized accreditation for particular programs of study (such as music, education, nursing, and so forth) within the university. Even our smaller specialized colleges must meet rigorous standards set by our Fellowship’s educational professionals to maintain our Fellowship’s endorsement.
You should thoroughly investigate the accreditation status of any institution you consider. You may call Dr. David Moore or access our AG Alliance for Higher Education at http://ag.org/colleges You m.ay link to any of our Assemblies of God colleges and universities from that site.
The names of the regional accrediting agencies and other important information is available at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website, http://www.chea.org Addit.ional information about accreditation, the dangers of degree mills and accreditation mills, and much more, is available at these websites: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation and http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html.
Finally, I will be glad to speak with you at any time to answer questions about higher education, accreditation, or credentialing. If after checking the accreditation of a school you are still in any way uncertain or confused, please call the District Office and ask for Dr. Sharp. Your questions can be answered, and additional information shared, more fully by phone. Where you choose to receive your education and career preparation is a life-changing decision. We are here to help you choose wisely.