Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting an Unaccredited Degree

I’m starting a brief series of posts dealing with education. They should provide some advice about what to do with education in general, and some particular advice about theology and philosophy in education. I’m seeking to answer questions that I occasionally get about what the best route is to take for an individual’s education. I freely admit there are far too many fields that I know virtually nothing about, so it’s quite likely some of the advice I give is flat-out wrong in some cases. Use your best discernment! Today’s post will deal with unaccredited degrees.

A school is accredited by a body that has been approved to do so ultimately by the U.S. Department of Education. The DOE is not themselves the accreditation-grantor. Because accreditation is technically privatized, the argument that the government controls accreditation is not quite right. Still, some schools choose the unaccredited route for religious and theological reasons, and that is their right. An accredited degree is no guarantee of high quality, but it does guarantee that minimum standards are set. We’ll get into other types of accreditation in future articles. Should you do an unaccredited degree? Not in most cases. Let me explain.

Reasons not to do Unaccredited Degrees:

1.     It might be a degree mill.

Strictly speaking, a “degree mill” only describes a “school” where you send them money, and they send you a degree (on any level, including doctoral). It also includes schools where they “evaluate” your prior transcripts and application (where you often list work history), and they can give you a bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate based on life experience (and, of course, a down payment). But I’d say most people are wary these days of simply sending money and receiving a degree (at least usually, and if they’re honest). More recently, “degree mill” has also come to describe schools that technically exceed this standard, but only barely. They require little work and time and, frequently, bachelor’s through doctorate can be obtained in perhaps 18 months. One particular school I’m thinking of asks you to do chapter summaries/critiques of a book in order to complete a course, and maybe 20 books to complete a master’s degree. This is a travesty! Higher education should be much more than doing book reports. You don’t want a degree from a degree mill, or anything resembling one.

2.     It might be illegal to use your credentials.

In some states, and in some cases, obtaining the degree isn’t the problem. It’s using it. In some situations, you can actually be breaking the law by claiming to have a credential that, in the eyes of accreditation, you do not have, in order to get a job or obtain business. Just tread carefully here. If you’ve done the homework and you’re OK with obtaining the degree but never using it for professional purposes, you might be all right.

3.     Your credits may not be accepted at most accredited schools.

Let me be frank: your credits will not be accepted at most accredited schools. While it is true that some accredited schools will accept unaccredited credits or degrees, especially if the school has a good reputation (I’m thinking about Liberty and some unaccredited schools specifically), this is not usually the case. I can think of so many times where someone has done an unaccredited bachelor’s, and can’t get into any accredited seminaries. The disappointment can make you feel trapped, as sometimes people find out that instead of being able to do a standard PhD, one must start her education all over again. All because the schools they chose were unaccredited.

4.     In some cases, it’s dishonest.

Note the qualifier “in some cases.” Some, perhaps many, states still allow unaccredited schools to offer PhD’s, specifically. The PhD is often recognized as the Western world’s highest academic degree. It is like the driver’s license for world-class scholarship. It means you have interacted with the best and most up-to-date scholarship in your field, perusing anthologies, monographs, and especially journal articles. Not only that, but a successful PhD will have journal articles published of his own (at least eventually), and has always completed a lengthy dissertation. This dissertation isn’t just a long project, or even a long research paper. Instead, it’s taken all of the recent scholarship on a narrow topic into consideration, and formed an original contribution the world of academia has not yet seen. In all likelihood, the successful PhD is the foremost authority in the entire world on her particular dissertation topic. The vast majority of unaccredited PhD’s don’t even come close to these standards (many of them having never researched a journal article). Having a PhD from this type of an institution gives the impression you’ve done much, or perhaps all of this, but the reality is really far short.

5.     It usually does not meet the standards of scholarship.

This goes with (4). Even some unaccredited schools that are “recommended” fall into this trap. They honestly believe they have world-class scholarship, but they do not. One way to find out: read a dissertation or master’s thesis from their school, and then read one on the same level from an accredited school. That’s not a surefire way to tell (perhaps the student on either end is exceptionally good or bad), but it’s a small indicator. Or perhaps ask someone who has been to both an accredited and unaccredited school. There are good ones out there.

6.     If you want to teach at an accredited school, you usually must have an accredited degree.

This is huge. So many of the people who ask me for advice are fellow Christians who want to know the best way they can earn qualifications to teach. Some plan on being a professor, others just want to have the opportunity, or to do it part-time. Try perusing a regionally accredited school’s job requirements for professors one day. Try several such schools. Know what almost always shows up as one of them? You must have a PhD/master’s from a regionally accredited school! What about nationally accredited schools? You must have a PhD/master’s from an accredited school! In most cases, at most accredited schools, if you don’t have an accredited graduate or post-graduate degree, you can forget about teaching. Your options will be limited to unaccredited schools, which are usually so small that it’s difficult to make a career out of teaching there (usually it could be part-time or even no pay).

As I have tried to hint at, there are good unaccredited schools. If you have your eyes wide open to the future ramifications, and if the pitfalls above won’t apply to you, and you want to study at an unaccredited school, don’t be discouraged! As always, follow God’s will in all things. But, for the average student, I wouldn’t recommend going to an unaccredited school.


  1. Excellent, prayerful article!! -- coming from a reader who is currently enrolled in an unaccredited theological institution. Thanks for the timely information, brother! -- Dave Johnson, Lakeland, Fla.

    1. Thanks Dave! As you can see, I'm not always against unaccredited schools, or think that they're all inferior. If you are where God wants you, that's excellent! :)

  2. Thank you for this article. It reads as thoughtful, honest, forthright and unbiased. I am a graduate of both accredited and unaccredited schools, and I have benefited from both.
    Thank again!


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