Accreditation FAQs

Accreditation FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Association of Theological Schools?

The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) has a membership currently consisting of more than 270 schools, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish graduate schools of theology that reflect a broad spectrum of doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and theological perspectives within the Christian and Jewish faiths. 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. The ATS staff supports the mission by providing accreditation as well as programs and resources for those who work at member schools. 

What is the Commission on Accrediting of ATS?

The Commission on Accrediting of ATS is related to, but separate from, the organization called ATS (see Overview of Accrediting). The Commission is an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education (USDE)—both as an institutional accrediting agency (for free-standing schools of theology) and as a specialized programmatic accrediting agency (for schools of theology embedded in a larger university). The Commission is also recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nongovernmental agency, as a national faith-related accrediting organization (see CHEA list). The purpose of the Commission is "to contribute to the enhancement and improvement of theological education through accreditation” (Commission Bylaws, Section 2.1). The Commission accredits theological institutions and approves graduate degree programs in theology and ministry offered by those institutions. The Commission does not offer pre-accreditation.

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 Policies and Procedures V). The Board is described on the Overview of Accrediting page.

What is accreditation and why is it necessary?

The Introduction to 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 includes only graduate-level programs; therefore, the Commission does not accredit Bible colleges. One accrediting agency for Bible colleges is the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

What kinds of programs does the Commission on Accrediting approve?

The Commission approves postbaccalaureate theological degree programs (master’s and doctorates) offered by member institutions, based upon the Standards of Accreditation (especially Standards 4-5). It does not accredit nor approve any undergraduate schools or programs, nor does it approve certificate programs.

Are there accrediting agencies for seminaries other than the Commission on Accrediting?

Nearly three-fourths of all ATS schools are also accredited by another agency. In the United States, the other agency is typically one of the six regional (institutional) accrediting agencies recognized by the USDE and CHEA. These six agencies that accredit higher education institutions of all types, typically within a given geographic region, include Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), Higher Learning Commission (HLC: formerly North Central Association), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC; formerly Western Association), and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

What does Commission accreditation mean in Canada?

The Commission accredits graduate theological schools in both the United States and Canada. Accreditation in the United States relies upon nongovernmental agencies (national, regional, programmatic), most of which are recognized by the CHEA and/or by the 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 directory lists institutions alphabetically, geographically, and by denomination. Each school’s listing indicates its membership status. Associate member schools are members of ATS but not of the Commission, as they are not yet accredited. Links are provided to websites for each member school in the membership directory.

Can I earn a degree online?

Yes, if the school in which you are interested offers that degree online. The new Standards of Accreditation approved by the membership in June 2020 have no residency requirements for any degree except the PhD (see Standard 5.15), but each school decides whether it will offer any of its degrees online. The ATS website lists all schools approved for comprehensive distance education.

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 Standard 3.12 of the Standards of Accreditation). The other institution should be accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education (USDE), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), or by a provincial quality assurance agency in Canada. 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 Policies and Procedures IX). 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. For more information, contact or call 412-788-6505.

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 demonstrates educational quality by meeting the Standards of Accreditation.

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 information, talking to current and former students of the school, speaking with your pastor or priest, and/or visiting the institution (see Member Schools).

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