As an accreditation consultant, I have several times been asked questions like, “What would it take for us to add ATS accreditation?” To answer that question, I often start with a discussion of full-time faculty requirements for accreditaton. While there is a great deal of overlap in the standards of any Department-of-Education-Recognized accrediting agency, faculty requirements is an area where differences abound.
When a Christian college, graduate school, seminary, or university first seeks accreditation, it normally starts with the Association for Biblical Higher Education— ABHE or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools— TRACS.
As the school grows and develops, it may consider adding the Association of Theological Schools— ATS or one of these regional accrediting agencies:
• Higher Learning Commission—HLC
• Middle States Commission on Higher Education—MSCHE
• New England Association of Schools and Colleges—NEASC
• Southern Association of Colleges and Schools—SACS
• WASC Senior College and University Commission—WASC
ABHE: Full-Time Faculty Requirements for Accreditation
The ABHE does not require a specified number of faculty members in their standards. What they state is a requirement that a school have the following:
A core faculty of sufficient size and expertise, committed to the fulfillment of the institutional mission, and responsible for the quality of its academic functions.
When I am helping a small school achieve accreditation with the ABHE, I hope that by the time it applies for candidacy, the school has one or two full-time faculty members. This does not include administrators who also teach.
Having full-time instructors is not always an absolute demand for achieving candidacy, but the visiting team that evaluates the school is likely to write that the school needs to begin working toward hiring faculty members whose main ministry is the school (e.g., full-time faculty members). Hopefully, the school will add a couple more full-timers before they apply for accreditation.
TRACS: Full-Time Faculty Requirements for Accreditation
TRACS is more proscriptive than the ABHE. They spell out that a school must have one full-time faculty member for each program area (including the General Studies program required in all bachelor degrees). Thus, if a school has a BA with majors in Bible, Ministry, and Counseling, they would need four full-time faculty. (Remember that one is also needed for General Studies.)
It can, however, be possible to reduce this number of full-time instructors by having a common core curriculum and separate concentrations.
For example, if a school has both an AA and BA in Biblical Studies, and all the AA courses are contained within the BA program, these two degrees would only require one full-time program director. If the school also has an M.Div., add another full-time faculty member.
They will also need a full-time president and academic dean. Being full-time administrators, neither of these can be classified as full-time faculty — even if they also teach.
ATS: Full-Time Faculty Requirements for Accreditation
Although a little less specific than TRACS, ATS, which accredits graduate programs in theology, gives somewhat detailed guidelines pertaining to a minimum number of full-time faculty members.
The school has an adequate number of properly qualified professors working full time at post-baccalaureate theological education. Normally, this adequacy will be represented by the equivalent of six to 10 full-time faculty (emphasis added).
Regional Accrediting Agencies: Full-Time Faculty Requirements for Accreditation
Like the ABHE, regional accrediting agencies tend to be less proscriptive, as WASC standards state,
The faculty and staff are sufficient in number … to achieve the institution’s educational objectives, establish and oversee academic policies, and ensure the integrity and continuity of its academic and co-curricular programs wherever and however delivered.
NEASC standards are that “faculty … numbers … are sufficient to accomplish the institution’s mission and purposes.” But, they further detail this expectation as follows:
There are an adequate number of faculty whose time commitment to the institution is sufficient to assure the accomplishment of class and out-of-class responsibilities essential for the fulfillment of institutional mission and purposes.
Responsibilities of teaching faculty include instruction and the systematic understanding of effective teaching/learning processes and outcomes in courses and programs for which they share responsibility; additional duties may include such functions as student advisement, academic planning, and participation in policy-making, course and curricular development, research, and institutional governance.
The institution avoids undue dependence on part-time faculty, adjuncts, temporary appointments, and graduate assistants to conduct instruction.
A similar expectation is expanded upon by HLC as follows:
The institution has sufficient numbers and continuity of faculty members to carry out both the classroom and the non-classroom roles of faculty, including oversight of the curriculum and expectations for student performance; establishment of academic credentials for instructional staff; involvement in assessment of student learning
Keep in mind that regionally-accredited schools tend to be large and complex. Thus, it is hard to say the exact minimum number of full-time professors a school will need to be regionally accredited. However, the different ways that regional accrediting agencies explain what they want the faculty to accomplish is a useful guide for understanding the expectations of any regionally or nationally recognized accrediting agency.
Regional accreditation tends to not be an easy option for a school that is looking to achieve initial accreditation. Often, a small Christian university will first achieve accreditation with TRACS or ABHE as a first step. As the school grows, develops and expands programs, it may then want to add accreditation from one of the regional accrediting agencies or ATS.
If you want to discuss whether your school is ready to seek an additional accreditation (or its initial accreditation), contact email@example.com.