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Accreditation Eligibility: Determine If Your School Is Ready to Begin

Accreditation Eligibility Requirements: The First Steps     – Photo by Stanisław Krawczyk – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42289335

When a school comes to us wanting help achieving accreditation, the first step is often to help them produce a document proving that the school is eligible for accreditation with their chosen agency.

It is not uncommon for a school to be accredited by more than one agency. Sometimes they might add one agency and drop another.

Even if a school’s goal is regional accreditation (e.g., with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools—SACS) or the Association of Theological Schools—ATS, it is normally best to start with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).  Other agencies may be out of reach for a few years, so being accredited with the ABHE or TRACS enables the school to reach a higher level of quality early in its development.

Many of the eligibility requirements will be similar among different agencies; note the number of similar ABHE and TRACS requirements listed in TABLE 1.

Candidate Status vs. Applicant Status

A number of eligibility requirements that are unique to TRACS early in the process will also be required of the ABHE later in the process. This is because acceptance of a TRACS application lands a school at “candidate status.”  However, when the ABHE accepts an application, the school is granted “applicant status.”  The school then has a maximum limit of five years to achieve candidate status with the ABHE.

Candidate status enables a US school to apply to the US Department of Education so that it can distribute Federal Student Financial Aid. It also means that students will be able to transfer their credits to more schools, and graduates will be accepted into more graduate schools.

An extensive self-study and two or three-day team visit (e.g., extensive inspection) is required to achieve candidate status. As mandated by the US Department of Education, a candidate school has a maximum limit of five years to become an accredited school.

ABHE applicant status is unique. During this period, the school has up to five years to achieve candidate status. The ABHE considers this a “dry run” for what a school must do during their candidacy.  Thus, some things that had to be done for an initial application to TRACS can be done for the ABHE during their “applicant status.”

During applicant status, the school uses the self-study process to come into compliance with the ABHE standards for accreditation. Since other agencies do not have an “applicant status,” there are more eligibility requirements at the beginning of their processes.

 

TABLE 1

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS COMMON TO ABHE & TRACS

Requirements Comments
Legal authorization to operate and grant degrees

 

In the USA, this authorization comes from a branch of a state government. This can be religious exempt or degree-granting authorization. In other countries, authorization may be given by that country’s ministry of education.
Mission statement appropriate to a Christian college or graduate school Often, a school beginning the accreditation journey has already created a mission statement that will not meet accreditation requirements. When we help a school pursue accreditation, we often ask board members, administrators, faculty members and other stakeholders to engage in an exercise to clarify their understanding of God’s purpose for their school. From their responses, we can help a school craft a more appropriate mission statement.
Statement of Faith While TRACS includes a “Biblical foundations statement” as an eligibility requirement, the ABHE does not include this in their list of eligibility criteria. However, an application to the ABHE must include “an official statement from the chief executive officer reflecting a board of control decision to affirm support of the ABHE Tenets of Faith.”
Board of directors (governance) The board must include at least five voting members
Chief executive officer Whether called president, executive vice president, director or something else, he or she must have the authority necessary to fulfill CEO responsibilities.
Catalog There are numerous requirements as to what must be included.
Learning resources This can be a library with hard copies on campus and/or electronic resources (e.g., full-text databases, subscriptions to online libraries).
Sufficient qualified faculty members TRACS has additional faculty requirements that are described below.
Educational programs At least one post-secondary program that is appropriate to higher education and consistent with the institution’s mission.
General Studies Classes in such areas as humanities, communications, social sciences, math and natural science must be required.

 

For an ABHE BA or a TRACS BA in a theological area, the minimum number of General Studies credits is 36 semester units. This can include Church History, Ethics, Biblical languages, but not professional skills, ministry skills, Bible or theology.

 

For Liberal Arts degrees, TRACS requires 44 semester units of General Studies (e.g., degrees not focused on Bible, theology, and ministry).

Students An adequate number of students must be enrolled and pursuing degrees in the programs being offered.
Audit An external, opinioned audit must be included in the application and will also be required every year. These are not cheap.
Financial Stability Evidence that the school can continue to support its operation.

 

ABHE Accreditation Eligibility

The most strikingly unique eligibility requirements for applying to the ABHE are the ministry formation program and the required number of Bible and theology credits.

The ABHE Ministry Formation Program expects all undergraduate students to be involved in some type of ministry. After the ABHE accepts a school’s application, but before the school becomes a candidate member, the school will normally refine this program to better comply with the requirements. Such programs typically expect students to minister at least an hour per week in a ministry requiring preparation and involves contact with people.

The ABHE Bible and Theology requirement obligates all BA students to complete 30 semester credits of Bible and Theology. These are courses in which the Bible is used as a major text. Thus, Church History or Introduction to Greek would not be classified as Bible or Theology courses. They would be designated as general studies courses. Evangelism and Preaching would be classified as ministry courses, not Bible and Theology.

The ABHE also has an Assessment and Public Accountability eligibility requirement that is not actually unique to the ABHE. As mandated by the US Department of Education, both the ABHE and TRACS require institutions to “make information available to the public concerning student achievement and institutional performance outcomes, including graduation rates and rate of recent graduate employment in program related occupations.”

Actually, TRACS requires a much more robust assessment plan at this stage. The ABHE will require the same after a school becomes an applicant but before reaching candidacy.

There are a few other unique ABHE requirements, including a simple commitment to accept specified requirements.

To be eligible to apply to the ABHE, a school must have had at least one class graduate from their principle program. TRACS only requires that students are enrolled.

The Schools admissions policy must be compatible with the school’s mission and programs.

The ABHE will require evidence of stable enrollment and finances, as well as of personnel (e.g., board members, administrators, and faculty). Income generated by the school must substantially be allocated to the educational purposes and programs.

To be eligible for the ABHE process, a school must agree to do the following:

  • Disclose all required information.
  • Comply with ABHE standards for accreditation.
  • Supply a written statement that it agrees that the ABHE has the right to make known any agency action to other agencies or individuals (e.g., probation or other actions).

The 22 ABHE “Conditions of Eligibility” are listed with brief explanations here. (See pages 2–3).

TRACS Accreditation Eligibility

A primary difference between TRACS and the ABHE is the point at which a school lands when their application to the agency is accepted.

When a school’s application is accepted by the ABHE, the school is an applicant. This does not give that school the benefits of candidacy (e.g., Federal Student Financial Aid or increased transferability).

When a school’s application is accepted by TRACS, the school becomes a candidate. Thus, a number of steps that a school must complete after becoming an applicant with the ABHE, but before becoming a candidate, are steps a school would have completed when applying to TRACS. For this reason, there are a number of TRACS eligibility requirements that will only be completed by ABHE schools later in the process.

Among the TRACS eligibility requirements that would be completed in the ABHE process after the initial application are as follows:

  • Measurable institutional objectives
  • By-laws for the board of directors
  • Sufficient administrative staff, job descriptions, and organizational chart
  • Board manual
  • Policy manual (e.g., administration handbook)
  • Faculty handbook
  • Student handbook
  • Comprehensive assessment plan
  • Strategic plan (i.e., Five-Year Plan)
  • Adequate facilities and equipment

The most strikingly unique eligibility requirements for applying to TRACS are the required number of full-time faculty members. The ABHE is satisfied with vague statements about sufficient numbers of instructions and administrators.

TRACS requires a full-time chief academic officer, as well as a full-time faculty member directing each academic degree, program and major. This includes a full-time faculty member directing the General Studies Program. Both the ABHE and TRACS require a full-time CEO.

Thus, a school that only offers a BA in Administration would need four full-time employees:

  • President (CEO)
  • Academic Dean (CAO)
  • Program director in charge of the General Studies Program
  • Program director in charge of the administration courses.

If the school has a BA in religion, an M.Div. and a BA in Administration, six full-time employees would be needed:

  • President (CEO)
  • Academic Dean (CAO)
  • Program director in charge of the General Studies Program
  • Program director in charge of the religion courses
  • Program director in charge of the M.Div.
  • Program director in charge of the administration courses.

TRACS also has a simple requirement of having a statement of a Christian philosophy of education.

The 10 TRACS “Institutional Eligibility Requirements” (IERs) documented by 43 “exhibits” (e.g., documents, handbooks, etc.) are listed here

Your Next Step?  Determine Your Accreditation Eligibility

Are you still trying to determine whether your school is eligible to begin the accreditation journey?  Do you need more help choosing an accrediting agency?  Do you want to explore what help we can provide in preparing your application?  Contact Agron & Associates, Inc. There is no charge for this service.

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