A Degree by any other Name

The topic of “degree mills” came up again in conversation the other day. This is not a flattering term and is used to describe institutions who generate degrees for students who pay enough money for them. Usually the academic requirements for a specific degree are not as rigorous as those from an accredited school. Sometimes this is not a fair assessment of the education a person may receive from the unaccredited school, but in my view degrees from unaccredited schools should not be compared to those from fully accredited institutions.

Not every degree is equal. This is difficult for most church goers to understand. I sympathize especially with pastor search committees who are tasked with sorting through resumes and figuring out who might be a good fit for their congregation. A candidate with a doctorate would certainly be more desirable than someone without one, wouldn’t you think? And, sometimes pastor types can be coy about whether or not they’ve actually graduated. When I worked in the registrar’s office at seminary, I received calls from committees who wanted to know whether or not someone actually graduated with their degree as compared to simply taking classes. It’s good to know some folks are checking up on us pastor types!

I’ve been fortunate to have received my theological education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; the school doesn’t look the same in terms of its faculty and the denomination has certainly changed course since I’ve been in attendance. But, I was blessed to have been there prior to 2000 and am pleased with the education I received from those professors. I am also grateful that the school values its accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I feel good about seeing my diplomas handing on the wall in my office.

Accreditation is important because it is a check and balance in terms of academic requirements. Students who take classes at an accredited school can attend another school and know that their coursework will be accepted by their new school. There is value in knowing there is an agreed upon standard among schools who are accredited by outside entities–there’s a difference when a school is “self-accredited.”

I think accreditation is also important when comparing one’s education with those who attend other institutions of higher learning. There’s already scrutiny toward ministers from those outside the church world as it relates to the rigor of our educational requirements. It’s helpful to know that a seminary’s accreditation sends a signal that it is willing to be held to an approved standards for its academics and degree programs.

This isn’t intended to be a long treatise on this subject; I simply want to express gratitude for my own education as well as encourage future seminary students to check out the accreditation of the school before enrolling in it. If you can’t get a direct answer from their website, then that should raise a red flag for you. It might cost you more money, but the investment in an accredited university or seminary will pay off in the long run.

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