Should religious colleges not be accredited?

Our university is currently going through the very last stages of renewing its accreditation as an institution of higher learning. It happens every ten years and is a big deal. We have to show the accrediting body that we are meeting our mission of providing a quality education to our students and have the resources to do so, so that our degrees actually mean something. The process requires a lot of work for the university because we have to collect all the evidence to support our case.

Eric C. Miller has an interesting article about whether religious colleges that require an affirmation of faith from their faculty and students are deserving of accreditation, using the case of Dayspring Bible College and Seminary in the state of Illinois, a state whose Board of Higher Education permits Bible schools to only issue certificates and diplomas but not degrees. The school is challenging that restriction.

Interestingly, Dayspring’s position offers a counterpart of sorts to that of University of Pennsylvania English professor Peter Conn, who wrote in an editorial for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the accreditation of religious institutions amounts to a “farce,” and that the imposition of doctrinal fidelity through signed faith statements necessarily undercuts the academic freedom of faculty at such institutions.

While Dayspring argues that Christian schools should not have to be accredited, Conn argues that they should not be accredited at all.

“Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research,” Conn wrote. “However, such inquiry cannot flourish — in many cases, cannot even survive — inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.”

Conn used Wheaton College in Illinois — the nation’s preeminent evangelical institution, which is widely regarded as “the Harvard of evangelical schools” — as his test case. Even the accreditation of this flagship Christian college, he argued, is nothing short of a “fiasco.”

The pursuit of knowledge, which is the goal of education, should allow one to intellectually go anywhere freely, with no signs forbidding entrance to any avenue of investigation. The problem with religious institutions that require faith affirmations is that while some may allow rigorous investigations in many areas, the fact that they explicitly close some doors to their students and faculty and say that some areas of exploration are out of bounds is highly problematic.

Some institutions may close a lot of doors, requiring acceptance of dogmas in contradiction to accepted knowledge in major areas of science. Others may say that they ‘only’ require belief in a god in order to be a member in good standing of the institution. But even a minimal belief is a supernatural agency carries with it consequences that prevent complete freedom of investigation.


  1. md says

    Studying the bedrock rhetoric of Western civilization didn’t do Abraham Lincoln any good. Imagine the Gettysburg address if only he’d gotten an MFA in puppeteering.

  2. anat says

    I understand that colleges are accredited by a variety of bodies. If so, there should be easily accessible information to determine value of being accredited by each body. Maybe we need to make some noise about organizations that accredit colleges that teach creationism or otherwise impose belief on free inquiry.

  3. Brian E says

    In Oz, we have Australian Catholic University, nee Aquinas College. It does teachers degrees, and similar I think. After all, we need more teachers to keep the dogma spread! It was, may still be, a 3rd technical college training teachers, but a government back in the day, following the spirit of the times, rolled lots of colleges into bigger institutions and allowed themselves to use the name of University, which had been restricted to a select august group. Some existing Universities, such as Melbourne University got agricultural colleges appended to them, which then (the agricultural college) withered because Melbourne Uni aint a farming school but the funding was nice and mid-level tech. colleges became ‘Universities’ like Victoria University. Not to say that all technical colleges weren’t good, RMIT for example, was/is very good, and was a university in all but name. But Aquinas College wasn’t much more than a Catholic arm to train teachers, and sudenley it was amongst company such as ANU, Melbourne Uni, etc…..

  4. says

    I hate to say it, but this would be a bad idea to remove accreditation from religious places carte blanche without basing it solely on academic standards. I’m no defender of Liberty University, but some of its programs (e.g. engineering, aeronautics) do meet the requirements for accreditation, and some of its graduates and programs are qualified. Just not all of them.

    What probably should be done is force universities to separate religion from academics. If a non-scientific ideology is “required”, then it shouldn’t be allowed to have programs in fields where it denies scientifically accepted theories and facts (e.g. biology, medicine, astronomy, geology, anthropology, etc.). As mentioned above, Liberty’s engineering department -- that field doesn’t require denial of evolution or the big bang, it’s a field of mathematics and materials. Its medical program, on the other hand….

    Many christian “colleges” in the US absolutely do not qualify for accreditation and have never received it, nor do they seek it. They only “accreditation” they receive is backslapping support from other unqualified “colleges”. AIG (Answers Ingenuous) and ICR (Incredulous Research) “prove each other’s research” while no one else does, and bible colleges operate the same way.

    They’re no better than diploma mills, and those who think about attending them should be told that they’re throwing money away. No one will hire a person “educated” at a bible college except for those who support such third rate educations (e.g. teachers at private christian schools who do not qualify for public school jobs). Any institution or department that intentionally refuses to meet accreditation standards within a certain period of time (say, ten years) should be forcibly closed.

  5. says

    There seems to be a whole lot of conflation going on here.

    “Religious college” or “religious institution” does not mean “Bible college or seminary.” Any university with a religious affiliation could be a “religious college/institution.”

    I attended two religious universities for undergrad, DePaul in Chicago (Catholic) and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth (Disciples of Christ), and neither required an affirmation of faith by students or faculty. Both offered an education that was not even slightly diminished in quality by the religious affiliation.

  6. Mano Singham says


    The problem is not with colleges having a religious affiliation. It is with colleges that require faculty and students to affirm to some faith doctrine as a condition of membership.

  7. Matt G says

    Perhaps having a prior ideological commitment disqualifies a person from operating in an intellectually honest manner in certain fields. Can a school be partially accredited?

  8. Mano Singham says

    Matt G,

    I don’t have an authoritative answer to your question but I am currently involved with our accreditation process and will speak to the person in charge and find out next week.

    As I currently understand it, these accreditation bodies accredit an entire unit. So in our university, which has eight different schools (law, medicine, nursing, business, dentistry, social work, engineering, and arts and sciences), at the moment the entire university is being accredited by one organization but each of the six professional schools (the first six in the list) also have their own professional accrediting bodies that are independent. So each of them has to be accredited twice on separate schedules.

    I believe that the accrediting bodies do not pick out specific programs in a unit and say they won’t accredit it. If they see some kind of serious problem, they will put the body on notice that they need to address and rectify it within a certain time.

    As I said, I will check and let you know next week,

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