FAQs about Accreditation
What is The Association of Theological Schools?
The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) is described on its Overview page. Its membership currently includes 273 schools, of which 244 are Accredited Members, 16 are Candidates for Accredited Member status, and the other 13 are Associate Members. Its member schools include Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox graduate schools of theology that reflect a broad spectrum of doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and theological perspectives within the Christian faith. The mission of ATS is to promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public.
What is the Commission on Accrediting of ATS?
The Commission on Accrediting (“Commission”) is related to but separate from ATS (see Overview of Accrediting). It is an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education (both as a programmatic specialized accrediting agency and as an institutional hybrid accrediting agency) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nongovernmental agency. The Commission accredits institutions (based upon the General Institutional Standards) and approves degree programs (based upon the Educational Standard and Degree Program Standards) offered by those accredited institutions.
What is the Board of Commissioners?
The Board of Commissioners (“Board”) is elected by the member schools of the Commission with representatives from member schools, from ministry practitioners, and from the public (see Policy Manual). The Board is described under Overview of Accrediting.
What is accreditation and why is it necessary?
Chapter One of the Self-Study Handbook provides a description of accreditation and its benefits.
Does the Commission on Accrediting accredit Bible colleges?
The scope of recognition that the Commission has from the USDE does not include undergraduate-level programs; therefore, the Commission does not accredit Bible colleges. One accrediting agency for Bible colleges is the Association for Biblical Higher Education, whose website is www.abhe.org.
What kinds of programs does the Commission on Accrediting approve?
The Commission approves, separately, each postbaccalaureate theological degree program (master’s and doctoral levels) offered by member institutions, based upon Educational Standards and Degree Program Standards. It does not accredit any undergraduate schools nor approve any undergraduate programs.
Are there accrediting agencies for seminaries other than the Commission on Accrediting?
There are six regional accrediting agencies in the United States that are recognized by the USDE and CHEA. These regional agencies accredit higher education institutions of all types within a given geographic region. They include Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Higher Learning Commission: A Commission of the North Central Association, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities, and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
What does Commission accreditation mean in Canada?
The Commission accredits graduate theological schools in both the United States and Canada. Accreditation in the Unites States relies upon nongovernmental agencies (national, regional, programmatic), most of which are recognized by CHEA and/or by USDE. Canada has no federal department of education and no regional accrediting agencies. Instead, each province or territory sets its own expectations for schools in its jurisdiction. General information about accreditation in Canada is provided by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. The public status accorded Commission accreditation for theological schools in Canada varies by province and by denominational affiliation.
How do I find out if a seminary is accredited by the Commission on Accrediting?
The Member Schools page lists institutions alphabetically, geographically, and by denomination. Each school’s listing indicates its membership category: Accredited Member or Candidate for Accredited Member status. Associate member schools are members of ATS but not of the Commission, because they have not yet initiated the accreditation process. Links are provided to websites for each of these member schools.
Can I earn a degree online?
The Commission’s Educational Standard and Degree Program Standards, revised in 2012, have residency requirements for all degree programs, except those Master of Arts programs described in Standard D, section D.3.1. Those MA programs may be completed entirely online if that school has approval for comprehensive distance education (list of schools offering comprehensive distance education). Schools may petition for exceptions to the various residency requirements (see Guidelines for Petitioning the Board of Commissioners). Schools that have received approved exceptions to offer other programs completely online are listed under Approved Exceptions and Experiments.
Will Commission accreditation guarantee that my credits will transfer?
It is an institution’s prerogative whether to accept transfer credits. The Commission on Accrediting encourages, but does not require, the acceptance of credits from another institution (see General Institutional Standards, Standard 2, section 2.9, and the Educational Standard, Standard ES, section ES7.2). The other institution should be accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). If an institution does accept transfer credits, it should ensure that courses in which the credits were earned were eligible for graduate credit in the institution at which they were taken.
I have a degree from a foreign country. Would it be accepted at a US or Canadian institution?
Degrees obtained outside the United States or Canada need to be equivalent to those earned in the United States or Canada. The admissions or registrar’s office of the institution to which you are seeking admission would have to evaluate and determine the equivalency of the foreign degree.
What should I do if I have a complaint against a member institution?
The Commission has a policy regarding complaints against member schools (see section XI of the Commission Policies and Procedures). Please note that complaints must be filed in writing and must provide evidence that the member school is in violation of a stated policy or accrediting standard or a membership criterion.
Does the Commission provide a qualitative ranking of its member schools?
The Commission does not provide a qualitative ranking of its member schools. To be an Accredited Member means that a theological school is judged to have resources appropriate to its purposes and educational programs; that its degree programs meet agreed-upon conventions of admission, content, requirements, and duration; and that it is able to demonstrate the extent to which its educational and institutional goals are being achieved.
How can I avoid “degree mills?"
For information about so-called degree mills, please consult Degree Mills: An Old Problem and a New Threat, published by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
How can I determine if a school is right for me?
You should start by reviewing the institution’s website, calling or writing the admissions office for an information packet, seeking out current and former students of the school, speaking with your pastor or priest, and visiting the institution (see Member Schools).