Some schools don’t claim to be much of anything, some claim to be what they are not, and some are gamely trying to become something.

In large numbers, ministers are returning to school for graduate degrees. They want to “keep up” in their field, and achieve the recognition an advanced degree offers in this accomplishment-conscious society. The Association of Theological Schools reports that 11 years ago there were 201 students enrolled in doctor of ministry (D.Min.) programs; today there are 5,551. In that same period, the number of Ph.D. students rose 54 percent, despite the well-known shortage of teaching positions for which such degrees are usually obtained.

But a minister who believes he cannot afford to go back to school in an accredited program is not barred from getting a certificate for his wall. The reason is that a thicket of unrecognized theology schools has sprung up to meet the demand—nearly all of them with standards below those of the accredited schools. These unaccredited institutions generally offer correspondence courses for master’s and doctoral degrees, even though recognized accrediting agencies do not believe home study should qualify for graduate credit.

Unfortunately, some of the schools make misleading statements about their accreditation, and their students mistakenly believe the schools are fully recognized. The students who attend usually have no basis on which to judge the education they receive, allowing even poor schools to produce satisfied students.

Unaccredited graduate schools of theology generally fall into three categories: schools that don’t claim to be much of anything; schools that claim to be what they are not; and schools which, despite the clamor of critics from established academia, ...

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