Sunday, February 16, 2014

Some Thoughts on Formal Theological Education and Accreditation

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.

Endeavoring to acquire an education from a Christian institution of higher learning can be a rather contentious pursuit. The prospective student must carefully identify and consider his or her educational goals, family life, church service, and fiscal outlook. Based upon these considerations, a set of criteria is formed which serves as the concept or mold of the ideal school.

The wise student forms this mold around realistic and biblical criteria. This is especially true for someone who is given to the care and nurture of a family. Obviously, Christians ought not abandon an obligation to their family to enter into school. Nor ought one plunge willfully into a substantial amount of debt to gain a Christian education. The great irony is that many believing persons do just that. Myriads of God's people become willfully enslaved to lenders (Proverbs 22:7), ignoring God's principles regarding the wise stewarding of his resources.

In my own pursuit of a Christian education, I've considered these things. I realized a call to ministry in my own life and I have sought an education accordingly. I found that the institution that fits my mold of of the ideal school is hard to come by. As a full time employee and the sole provider for a large and growing family, an expensive traditional education was ruled out from the start. Having no suitable institution nearby, I decided upon utilizing distance education. However, as I began to parse through the almost endless number of Christian colleges and seminaries that have a distance program, I noticed an abundance of schools that lacked an accreditation recognized by either the United States Department of Education (USDE, or USED if you like...), or The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Initially I enrolled in an accredited secular institution via distance so as to complete the general education courses required by virtually all reputable colleges and seminaries. I have taken courses using both traditional classroom learning and distance learning. I've taken classes in the "hard" sciences and the humanities in both formats. What became rather evident during this time was the profound differences between the two. Distance courses are far more dependent on the study of text books and other literature. I have found that they also typically require more writing and research and hence more work. Frankly, the amount of work and discipline required to get a good grade in a distance course exceeded the work required for the traditional method.

Truly, distance education is little more than a timed and directed form of self-education or autodidacticism. Surely there are those who agree and argue that because of this, distance education is a poor substitute for the "real thing." Recently a rather affable and seminary educated friend of mine stated something to this effect. He said, "I don't generally recommend distance programs. Education should be a communal thing." But, this kind of objection fails to recognize that many students are more apt to learn via distance due to the fact that as adults, they have spent years learning primarily by self-education. Hence, many adult students may be better suited for distance learning than that of the traditional methodology and therefore proponents of the traditional methodology cannot legitimately lay claim to having the only "real" methodology.