It is unfortunate, but each year thousands of students fail to ask two crucial questions: is my school accredited and do I need to attend an accredited school to accomplish my future goals and dreams? The repercussions of this failure to examine ones school are not felt until, in many cases, years later. The most emphasized consequence we see occurs when a student needs an accreditation stamp on their diploma, but unfortunately no one informed them of the necessity of attending an accredited institution. The end result is that all of their hard academic work is deemed null and void. They must either begin school again or bitterly go through life with what they have.
There is a reason that this scenario gets a lot of attention, because the individual will not get to reap the benefits of their investment of time and money. However, there is another scenario that plays out, but it does not get as much emphasis, and I will explain why. In this other scenario, students attend an accredited school, but for what they wish to do in their future, they do not actually need a degree that has an accreditation stamp on it. These students will spend years of their life in school becoming educated and will then spend more time than they should paying off the high price of an accredited degree. Now this scenario doesn’t get a lot of emphasis because most students simply accept that college is expensive and you have to pay the fee just like all the other students, so they get their degree, begin their future, and when they look back they point to their education and say it was worth it because they are doing what they want to do in life.
My point is that perhaps a great many students could benefit from having a serious conversation with themselves as to whether accreditation is absolutely necessary (and as I mentioned, for a great many students accreditation is). What about the student whose future does not hinge on an accredited degree? There are still enough professions out there that it is worth examining the accredited or not question. There are a huge number of artists out there who do not need a degree at all—they just need to know how to do what ever it is that they wish to do. Unless they wish to teach at a university, they just need the education and with the cost of an art degree from an accredited institution (google it, the cost will have an effect on your jaw) I think it is absolutely worth questioning the necessity of an accredited degree for all students. Many students could be starting out after college with significantly less debt (or in some cases none at all) if they simply analyzed their situation to see if they really need to pay the accreditation fee.
What exactly does it mean if a school is accredited? Accreditation is a good thing. It means that a school has basically been audited by a third party, the department of education, and after some scrutiny, their academic programs have been approved. Or in other words, a school’s academic programs have been reviewed and it is concluded that a reasonable student who went through the program would receive the education they need to move on and successfully utilize the knowledge and skills offered by the school. Accreditation is a good thing because it helps to ensure quality and thoroughness of academic programs. The downside is that it comes with a high cost and that cost is passed on to students.
Schools that are not accredited do not have such a fee to pass on their students and can offer education that is significantly less expensive. Not accredited does not mean “cake walk” or “diploma mill” or that the school will just give anyone a degree. Some schools that are not accredited do sell degrees, but not all. The same applies to accredited schools, it is not impossible to find an accredited school that passes the majority of its students and not because the quality of their work was deemed acceptable. I can still remember being appalled when I was teaching English for a school and was basically stated, in a meeting, “these are private liberal arts students, you don’t fail them—they are paying too much money.” I don’t teach for that college anymore.
Now, in order to teach English on the college level, yes, I did have to earn multiple accredited degrees. But, to attend seminary, and learn about God, no, I do not necessarily have to have an accredited degree. My situation, however, is not every student’s. The student has to have that honest conversation with themselves about their future and what their future is going to expect from them. I would encourage every student to seek mentorship from someone who has already walked the path.
I want to dispell just a few myths that are out there regarding schools that do not pursue accreditation before the end of this post:
Accredited schools are academically better than non-accredited ones.
I would never subscribe to this as a general rule. When it comes to your education, you do not want a blanket statement to dictate your future—you will want to get in and do your homework on the schools you are interested in. What you will find is that, just like anything else in life—there are great accredited schools and not-so-great ones, just as there are some great unaccredited schools and some not-so-great ones.
An accredited school means I am guaranteed a quality education.
I wish this were the case. However, there is still the human factor. Just because a school’s programs looks good on paper does not guarantee that they will be executed in the classroom to perfection. Any institution will tell you that hiring quality instructors is no easy task. Accredited schools do end up with poor quality instructors who run their classrooms in a way that would not pass accreditation standards if they were individually audited. On the flip-side, there are countless instructors who teach at schools that are unaccredited that, if audited, would pass accreditation standards with flying colors.
Accreditation is really supposed to be a voluntary process—or so it is claimed. However, “voluntary” as it is in conversation, it would be suicide for a university from, say, the Big 10 to forego renewing its accreditation status. So, this raises the question of how voluntary is the process really? It is a bandwagon situation, if you don’t get on it, you aren’t as good as everyone else. Sure, except that one of the best teachers I ever had was a small 90-year-old woman who taught American literature. She did not go to an accredited institution, that is accreditation was not then (when she was in school) as prevalent as it is today. As time goes on, we will have only instructors at accredited institutions who have degrees from institutions that were accredited when they were students.
As I have said, accreditation is meant for good. If you need it for your future, then you need it for your future. I would just tell any future student to take some time and analyze your situation to determine if an accredited education is what you have to have. If you don’t need it, then you don’t necessarily have to pay the high cost of it. You can get a quality education at a price you can afford if you take the time to be deliberate about your education.
By Joshua Franklin, Doctor of Biblical Studies (DBS) student at Colorado Theological Seminary