A User-Friendly Guide to Accreditation When Choosing a Bible College or Seminary
Dr. Samuel R. Chand, President Emeritus
Beulah Heights University, Atlanta, GA
“Fully Accredited” blare the advertising in magazines and journals. What does that mean?
What does unaccredited mean for you? How do you know when an institution of higher learning is really accredited? Who accredits Bible colleges and seminaries? Tell-tale signs of a “diploma mill.” How does accreditation work in America? Why do I write this article?
I’ll begin with the questions above in reverse order.
Why write this article?
As President of an accredited college, it grieves me to see institutions misleading students, present and future, into thinking an institution holds a status that it doesn’t. It is especially grievous when perpetrated by Christian institutions who do know better, but knowingly choose to misrepresent themselves.
Also, most of the students do not know how accreditation works in America!
How does accreditation work in America?
America has a voluntary system of accreditation. An institution does not have to be part of a recognized accreditation agency to operate. Every State has different guidelines and oversight. A recognized accreditation agency is one that has been recognized by the US Department of Education and approved by them following completion of stringent criteria.
However, you and I can begin our own accrediting agency in our kitchen! Lets call it the U & I Bible College and Seminary Accreditation (UIBCSA – pronounced U-eye-bik-sa) – sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Then, we would proceed to incorporate this agency. We may even go further and file for a non-profit tax status! Then, you and I solicit fledgling start-up institutes to pay us fees and become members. These members then call themselves “fully accredited.” The question is, who accredits the accrediting agency? If it is not the US Department of Education, then think twice before enrolling.
Tell-tale signs of a diploma mill? A “diploma mill” is street language to describe institutions that are not properly accredited, but want to purvey themselves as if they were and mislead people. Some things to watch for:
- Photocopy of degrees/diplomas in advertising
- Specific “prices” such as Bachelors for $300, Masters for $450, and Doctorate for $600.
- Charge for college catalog
- Catalog not giving accreditation information
- Catalog giving a long disclaimer of how accreditation is not important
- College does not provide Federal Financial Aid such as Pell Grants, Student Loans etc.
- Do not be swayed with slick packaging of materials in print, video or the internet.
- Extraordinarily short time-span for completing a degree – for example, if you can get your Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate in 1-3 years!
- Accredited by another institution – no institution (college / university etc.) can accredit another institution.
Who accredits Bible Colleges and Seminaries?
In America Bible Colleges and Seminaries can be recognized by the following – all of these agencies are approved and recognized by the United States Department of Education.
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)
P.O. Box 328
Forest, VA 24551
Scope: All Institutions, Bible Colleges/Institutes, Christian Liberal Arts Colleges/Universities and Seminaries.
- Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges (AABC)
P.O. Box 780339
Orlando, FL 32878-0339
Scope: Bible Colleges only.
- Regional Accrediting Bodies – there are seven regional accrediting bodies which have jurisdiction over different geographical territories.
Scope: Elementary through High School, Bachelor, Masters and Doctorate
- Association of Theological Schools (ATS)
10 Summit Park Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15275-1103
Scope: Graduate level (Masters and Doctorate) education in ministry and theology
The above information is gleaned from the Higher Education Directory – the only recognized directory of higher education.
How do you know when an institution of higher learning is really accredited?
The student must be a good steward of their resources as well be a wise consumer/customer.
Ask the difficult questions. Use the information listed above. Go to the Library and look up that institution in the Higher Education Directory. A new one is published each year. If the institution is not listed in the directory, it is not accredited!
If the student has plans to enter a Seminary following their Bachelor’s, then call that Seminary and ask them if they accept credits from the college the student is planning on attending.
What does unaccredited mean for you? It means that the student’s credits may not transfer to another institution.
A word about transfer of credits – nothing is automatic. No institution is obligated to transfer credits from another institution – it is all based on courtesy offered due to accreditation. Also, only “applicable” credits transfer – for example, Bible courses will not transfer into an engineering college.
It means that the student will not be able to receive Federal Financial Aid.
It means that an undergraduate (Bachelor’s level) student may not be able to enroll in a graduate (Masters and above) following graduation with a B.A. Degree.
It means good money, time and energy spent in pursuit of credentials not worth the paper they are written on.
“Fully accredited” – well, maybe, maybe not!
Dr. Samuel R. Chand serves as President Emeritus of Beulah Heights University in Atlanta, GA. He may be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org