If you are considering attending a Christian college, you may wonder if Christian colleges have the same accreditation process as public college. In other words, you may be asking if Christian schools have to pass the same rigorous examination that secular universities and colleges do. First, it is important to understand that accreditation is entirely voluntary. The Department of Education will not revoke a school’s standing if they are not accredited.
However, accreditation does carry some weight in the academic world, and investigating the accreditation status of a school before applying is an important step in selecting a school. As with any type of school, some Christian colleges are accredited, and some are not. Further, Christian colleges routinely earn accreditation from different accrediting bodies, so it’s helpful to research the different Christian college accreditation. Accreditation is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to finding a college, and there is no single type of accreditation when it comes to Christian schools.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a process through which peers review an institution to ensure it is meeting standards that are recognized as a watermark of excellence. Accreditation can be for an entire university, or for a college or program within the institution. Usually, schools must apply for accreditation and then submit required information about their missions, their finances, their course structures and their student policies among other things. Once the information is reviewed, the accrediting commission usually performs an on-site visit. If a school is referred to as “Applicant Status,” it means that the process has not been finished. Candidate Status means that the school is waiting for the accrediting organization’s decision and those who have passed the process successfully are deemed “Fully Accredited.” The Department of Education does not accredit colleges and universities. It does, however, recognize certain accrediting organizations. The best accreditation for secular schools is regional, and there are five recognized regions: Middle States, Northeastern Association, North Central Association, Southern Association and the Western Association.
Many Christian colleges are accredited by these secular regional agencies, as well as specialized agencies that focus on Christian colleges. Interestingly, some of the most well-known universities in the country are on par with their secular peers and are known for their connection to various Christian faiths. For example, Pepperdine University in California is affiliated with the Churches of Christ since the founder was affiliated with that religious organization. Notre Dame University in Indiana is a Catholic school. Duke University was founded by a group of Methodists and Quakers.
Further, some of the most well-regarded schools in the nation were founded as religiously affiliated institutions even though they have become secular today. Harvard University was established in 1636 through a vote of the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was meant to offer instruction and training to future members of the clergy. The university’s original motto was “In Christi Gloriam,” which is a Latin phrase that means “For the Glory of Christ.”
The College of William & Mary, which was the second university founded in the United States, was an Anglican institution and students once needed to be members of the Church of England to attend. Like Harvard, Yale University was originally founded as a place to train future ministers when it opened its doors in 1701. The university still has a School of Divinity today and has had deans of that school who have hailed from denominations that have included Catholics, the Churches of Christ, and Methodists.
What Accrediting Institutions Does the Department of Education Recognize?
The main accrediting organization, according to the Department of Education website, is the Higher Learning Commission in all its regional divisions. There is also the Accrediting Commission of career Schools and Colleges, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, among other secular organizations. It also recognizes at least two religious organizations, the Traditional Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission and the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes four groups that provide Christian college education to institutions in the United States. Recognition from CHEA confirms that a Christian college accreditation organization meets the standards required by CHEA for academic consistency, quality, and accountability. Faith-related accrediting organizations recognized by CHEA include the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), and the Association of Theological Schools The Commission on Accrediting (ATS).
The Association for Biblical Higher Education operates in the United States and Canada and includes more than 150 Biblical institutions in its total number of accredited schools. Schools that are accredited by the ABHE come from several different denominations, but all of the schools must exhibit core values that align with the ABHE’s mission. Those values include spiritual engagement, professional excellence, and integrity.
Similarly, the Association of Theological Schools also operates in the United States and Canada and has accredited more than 270 schools under its umbrella. Schools that have been accredited by the ATS must have academic degree programs that lead to degrees in ministry or religious teaching. In addition to offering accreditation to schools in various Christian denominations, the agency also extends Christian college accreditation to Jewish institutions. Schools that aren’t Christian or Jewish may still apply for “Affiliate” status with the agency.
Are There Other Christian Accrediting Organizations?
Many religious denominations accredit their own schools. There are, however, some independent accrediting organizations like the Association of Independent Christian Colleges and Seminaries and the International Association for Christian Educational Accountability, that are recognized as accepted accrediting vehicles by most Christian schools. The reason many Christian schools choose not to become accredited is that they offer an education that is more focused on values and, in the case of seminaries, on doctrine. Those are areas in which secular accreditation would not provide adequate direction. In addition, The IACEA website cites the high cost of accreditation through secular avenues as one reason many Christian schools choose not to follow that path. For those schools choosing to accredit through one of the major Christian organizations, however, the process will be similar to secular accreditation.
The Christian college accreditation process for the Association of Christian Schools International requires that school graduates meet four performance and knowledge metrics. Students must be given the opportunity to learn a Biblical worldview and gain Biblical knowledge, as well as cultivate academic excellence. Students must also be given lessons or classes on building life skills and learn how to apply those life skills in a practical manner. Students must also be offered lessons on building character and “spiritual formation.”
Students who are interested in receiving a Christian education or obtaining a degree from a school with a Biblical worldview may want to explore the other Christian accrediting organizations that aren’t necessarily listed with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). A handful of those organizations include the Association of Christian Colleges and Theological Schools of Louisiana, the Association of Independent Christian Colleges & Seminaries, the Christian Accrediting Association, and the Kingdom Fellowship of Christian Schools and Colleges.
Values-Based Christian Education Versus Instruction at Secular Institutions
There are many similarities between colleges that are labeled as Christian and those that are considered secular or without a religious affiliation. For example, Christian schools often have many of the same majors that are available at secular schools. Majors like accounting, business, history, psychology, and sociology are commonly offered at Christian colleges that espouse a Biblical worldview, but there are some differences between the experience a student might have at a Christian college versus a secular university or college.
At a Christian college, students may receive instruction on the Bible in classes that are wholly separate from their major, or they may take classes where a Biblical worldview is part of all classes the student will take for his or her major. It can help students to be a member of the religion that their Christian college is affiliated with, but it’s not mandatory. In fact, many Christian colleges don’t have a denominational requirement and only require that students agree to abide by certain rules that match a Biblical worldview.
One such school is Brigham Young University, which is affiliated with the Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints and has Christian college accreditation. Students do not need to be part of the church to attend the university, but they must adhere to the school’s honor code during attendance. The code includes rules like abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, dressing appropriately within the university’s “dress and grooming standards,” and respecting others by avoiding the use of vulgar language. Not only are students required to live by this honor code, but the rules also apply to faculty members and anyone employed by the university.
Alternatives for Financing at Christian Colleges
One of the most significant barriers students may face when selecting a Christian college to attend is getting federal student aid when the college isn’t recognized by an accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education. Future students who are comfortable attending a school that isn’t formally recognized as an accredited school by the government may opt for private student loans; however, the loan terms for private student loans aren’t always as affordable as federally backed loans.
An alternative for students who cannot qualify for federal student aid is to apply for grants and scholarships, which are often available through a student’s home church. Religious scholarships are often available for students who are looking to enroll in Christian colleges and graduate with a faith-related degree. Students may also qualify for Christian or church scholarships when they make it known that they want to use their degree in a manner that uses their faith. For example, a psychology student might qualify for a church scholarship if he or she plans on building a faith-based psychology practice after graduation.
Fully Accredited Christian Schools are Respected Educational Facilities
The most important thing to remember when selecting a Christian college or university is that they do undergo the same exact process for accreditation as secular institutions when they are accredited by one of the nation’s regional accrediting agencies. Recognition from the United States Department of Education offers the same prestige for a secular school as it does for a Christian school. With that in mind, a student who wishes to attend a university or college that operates under a Biblical worldview may do so with the added benefit of quality degree programs that are respected throughout the country.
Students who choose to attend a school that is accredited by a local, regional, or national agency that isn’t recognized by the United States Department of Education may have a more difficult time in some aspects of their post-collegiate life, but there are opportunities to find success with schools that haven’t yet obtained regional accreditation, or which have chosen to forgo traditional accreditation in favor of approval from a Christian organization. In fact, students who are interested in degrees in divinity and similar areas may actually want to pursue education at a college that was founded by their denomination of Christianity.
For example, students who grow up in the Baptist Church faith have dozens of schools from which to choose that are affiliated with groups like the National Baptist Convention, the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, the Baptist Missionary Association of America, and other local or state-based Baptist organizations. A student who wants to become a church leader may thrive in a school that is closely affiliated with their personal church, and the status of the school as accredited or not might not be an important factor.
Christian schools that choose not to be accredited create problems for the student. A school that is not accredited by the Department of Education doesn’t qualify for federal student aid. In addition, employers look for degrees from accredited schools. Savvy hirers will recognize the major Christian accrediting councils as being on the same level as the secular ones. Christian colleges have the same accreditation process as public college, but they may be accredited by different organizations.
When it comes down to it, Christian colleges and universities may or may not be accredited in the same way that secular schools are accredited. It’s worth pointing out that not every secular institution is fully accredited by the nation’s regional accrediting agencies. During the process of finding, selecting, and applying to a school for college, the institution’s accreditation status can play an important role in the student’s final choice, but it’s not the only factor that will influence that decision. The best advice for any student who wishes to find success at university is to research the reputation of his or her chosen school and make a choice accordingly.
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