Over at Debunking Christianity, John Loftus has a rather startling proposal, deny accreditation to evangelical schools. I will try to sum up his points to make sure that I am fairly representing his ideas. Let me just quote.
The principle to be used in denying them accreditation is that signing doctrinal statements disqualifies a higher institution of learning worthy of the name from accreditation.
So, because the school expressly says something that is a myth (doctrinal statement), then they should be denied accreditation and all the benefits that go with it.
John specifically names Biola University (but doesn’t link to it), since their doctrinal statement is directly at odds with evolution (obviously something I’m interested in). The actual Biola statement is here.
But that’s neither here nor there. I just thought it odd. The real issue here is this statement.
At the same time accreditation agencies exist in order to insure the quality of education that students can expect to receive in American colleges.
This is a difficult sentence to parse. And there’s some background we need to cover for this discussion.
There are two main types of college and university accreditation in the US. The first (and what I think John is referring to) are the six regional accrediting bodies. They review schools from elementary through graduate schools including public, private and for-profit schools. One of the purposes is to ensure that coursework transfers between colleges, especially in different states. I will use the Southern Association of College and Schools for most of this article since I am most familiar with it. The other five should be roughly equivalent.
The other type of accreditation is that of a trade body. This is a group of experts in a field that evaluate college programs to ensure that graduates meet the requirements of the trade. There are many, many of these trade bodies. They cover everything from plumbing to nursing.
A much smaller (and, to my work, much less important) are bodies that accredit things like continuing education programs. These are programs that are not for college credit, even though they are taught (usually) using college professors, facilities, and such. For example, the flower arranging class grandma used to take at the local community college fell under this category.
This is an excellent overview of accreditation in the US.
Now, one of John’s points is that evangelical schools can be eligible to participate in the Federal Student Load and Federal Student Aid programs. This means that students at those schools can get federal money and grants to help pay for their education. At first blush, this seems like a huge 1st Amendment issue.
But it’s really not, because the government isn’t restricting any one group. Any university, regardless of doctrinal statements (including private and for-profit schools) can apply to be a part of the program. The requirements for acceptance are listed here.
The one that John seemed especially concerned about was this:
- The school must be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education to accredit schools to participate in the Federal student aid programs.
That link takes you to a list of acceptable accrediting bodies. While the regional bodies are on that list, there’s about 35 agencies on that list.
There are many other requirements for Title IV money. Accreditation by a regional body is not required, nor is it sufficient to get government money for student education.
So, what does that mean for John’s argument? It means that denying evangelical schools regional accreditation will not change anything. These three bodies are also on the list of approved accrediation agencies
*ASSOCIATION FOR BIBlICAL HIGHER EDUCATION, COMMISSION ON ACCREDITATION
(recognition includes distance education)
*ASSOCIATION OF ADVANCED RABBINICAL AND TALMUDIC SCHOOLS, ACCREDITATION COMMISSION
*COMMISSION ON ACCREDITING OF THE ASSOCIATION OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS
So evangelical schools are safe even if the regional bodies reject them.
Another point about the regional bodies. They are not interested in the accuracy of the content being discussed in class. That’s not their job. Here’s the Southern Association’s standards document (PDF). I list the requirements (in abbreviated form below).
- degree granting authority from appropriate government agency
- Has governing board
- Has CEO
- Has mission statement
- Ongoing research based planning and evaluation process
- In operation
- One or more degree programs
- degree programs with a coherent course of study
- General education requirement
- Appropriate number of full-time and qualified faculty
- Has library
- has support programs, services, and activities
- Sound financial base
- Adequate physical resources (facilities)
- Quality Enhancement Plan
That’s a VERY brief summary. Feel free to review the details. But, in short, there is no requirement that schools teach reality. Provided that the school has appropriate faculty for the listed degree plans and those degree plans are consistent. There are additional requirements in Chapter 3 of that PDF, but they are all pretty much related to those cores. These include things like transfer of credits from other institutions, how to determine amount of credit, and things like post graduate degrees are more rigorous that bachelor degrees.
In my experience (I was the assistant registrar for a college and worked in several college administration positions prior to that), the hardest standards to meet are the facilities, financial, and the planning requirements.
So, again, in terms of financial aid, the regional accrediting body doesn’t really make any difference and it’s not their job to ensure content. They ensure that the school is consistent with its stated mission and that the faculty are teaching courses for which they have degrees. But that’s about it.
The other accrediting bodies are those of a professional or technical nature. They are really to ensure that a school is teaching students appropriate content. I was tangentially involved in the accreditation of our auto mechanics program. That was a rigorous process and included things like what tools we had for the students and a detailed examination of the curriculum.
Now, if a school is accredited by one of these bodies, it’s because they are teaching the things that they are supposed to be teaching for that program. It would be wrong to take away that accreditation. A doctrinal statement doesn’t mean much to an auto mechanic.
So, in both cases, removing the accreditation for the school would be either a waste of effort or simply wrong.
But what about John’s concern that a place like Biola may teach a biology class when they have this in their mission statement:
The existence and nature of the creation is due to the direct miraculous power of God. The origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of kinds of living things, and the origin of humans cannot be explained adequately apart from reference to that intelligent exercise of power. A proper understanding of science does not require that all phenomena in nature must be explained solely by reference to physical events, laws and chance.
Well, that offends the heck out of me. It’s pretty disgusting. But they have every right to believe that.
I don’t like it. I’d like to show them through evidence that they are wrong. I wish religion would disappear and the money wasted on it be spent on science.
But we can’t legislate things like that… not and claim any support for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or the right to do whatever one wants to do. If we demand that agencies stop accrediting schools like Biola, what’s next? Do we also stop schools from talking about Ayn Rand and using her ideas as the basis for economics lessons? It’s that slippery slope we hear so much about. Who gets to decide? Who gets to decide what’s next?
Still, it’s OK. Places like Oral Roberts university (another one mentioned by John) are of very limited purview. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot one can do with a degree from there. As our society changes, places like that will become more and more isolated from the rest of the country. People of that faith will go there to learn and teach more people of that faith. And, when those people get to the real world, they will realize just how useless that degree is. No other university will take their degree for graduate studies. So they either have to get a real education, or go back to their evangelical college… which is still useless.
There were (probably still are) two schools in Texas that, while accredited, no other school will accept bachelor’s degrees from. Students from those schools (which are terribly easy and NOT evangelical) just don’t have the training for graduate school. After my stint in university admin, I was a teacher. One of my assistant principles was a gradate (Ph.D. in Educational Administration) of one of those Texas schools. Whenever she passed out a memo, the entire faculty had a rousing game of “how many mistakes can you find”. We’re talking basic grammar and spelling… from a person with a graduate degree in education. Anyway…
One point John makes is critical, but it’s not in the main body of his article. What about those poor sods who pay for a private education at one of these evangelical colleges, get a crap degree, and have to figure out how to get a job with a poor education, a useless degree, and a couple grand in student loans?
Again, we can’t legislate common sense.
There’s another group that has this problem, people that go to the for-profit colleges and universities (I’m looking at you Phoenix University). Many of these programs are little better than a diploma mill. But they still cost like the dickens.
Why doesn’t John complain about those schools that are also getting federal money?
The answer here isn’t legislation. It’s education. Teach high school students about colleges, what’s valuable, what’s not. The children of highly educated parents have an advantage here and it’s sad that many low socio-economic status people are taken in and ripped off by these schools.
I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. I hope that the spread of the internet and the ability of people to start looking for tools online instead of TV commercials will help. I hope the president’s idea of a free 2-year degree will help too.
I am an outspoken proponent of the value of education and the need for education reform. But doing things like denying accreditation is not a solution. It’s more likely to be a problem. Think about it. An evangelical school gets denied accreditation, not because they don’t meet the same requirements that other schools have, but because their mission statement says “Jesus”. There would be lawsuits and martyr complexes all over the place… and they would have a point.
Shutting down places (even if only denial of earned accreditation) is not freedom. It’s totalitarianism… even if you agree with it.
 His link is to another of his blogs, which links to another article at “InsideHigherEd.com”
 Including this one curiously enough *ACCREDITATION COMMISSION FOR ACUPUNCTURE AND ORIENTAL MEDICINE (FORMERLY NACAOM) Seriously?!?!?!