Accreditation: Still an Issue

Christin KieckhaferWhat is the difference between a regionally accredited college and a nationally accredited college? For Christin Kieckhafer, it was tens of thousands of dollars and three years of her life.

“Education is never a waste, but it’s certainly a shock when you find out you have spent all this money and you’re going to have to spend it again,” Kieckhafer said. “I know God calls different people to different places. But, if you aren’t entirely sure, it’s better to stay on the safe side.”

The accreditation issue is often misunderstood—until students and their parents come face-to-face with the consequences of decisions made four years earlier.

Regional accreditation is the safest route. It is the gold standard used by professional and graduate schools as well as potential employers. Credits from Maranatha and other re­gionally accredited colleges will transfer anywhere. Maranatha’s graduates rarely encounter difficul­ties being admitted into programs for advanced degree work.

National accreditation, converse­ly, offers an unpredictable outcome. Some professional and graduate schools will accept work from schools recognized by national accrediting groups. Many will not. Some employ­ers will accept those degrees. Many will not.

Those considering becoming pastors and missionaries may not be­lieve accreditation should be a factor in their decision. While it is true that few churches require it, there remain questions to ponder.

What if the Lord someday leads me into a line of work outside of full-time vocational ministry? What if I begin at a small, struggling church and need to seek full-time employ­ment to support myself and my fam­ily? What if I need a way to supple­ment my ministry income?

These are important questions that require a broad and cautious long-term view of the future and an understanding of the importance of accreditation.

We talked with Kieckhafer and others who found the direction of their lives changed by the accreditation issue. Their experiences would encour­age caution on the part of both parents and prospective college students.

Christin Kieckhafer

Christin Kieckhafer kept asking the question, and kept getting the same answer.

“When I would ask at the first college I attended, they would always tell me they were accredited,” Kieck­hafer said. “But they weren’t region­ally accredited. When I graduated, I couldn’t teach in the public sector. I was told my degree would transfer fine to another school. But, when I started to apply, I found out they were going to make me start all over again. I believe I was misled all along.”

Kieckhafer had met some Ma­ranatha graduates during a summer camp and began to explore the possibility of transferring there after completing her bachelor’s degree at the first college she attended. She decided to do so, even though it would mean three more years of undergraduate work. Finally, seven years after her first college class, Kieckhafer earned her regionally accredited degree from Maranatha in May of 2008.

Today, Kieckhafer teaches music at Slinger (Wis.) Middle School and is enrolled in the master’s degree pro­gram in Vocal Pedagogy and Perfor­mance at the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.

She also acts in a part-time advisory role to friends and relatives who are deciding whether to pursue a degree at a regionally or nationally accredited college.

“I try to explain to them that they’re not the same thing,” Kieckhafer said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get people to look outside of their little hub. But I try to be kind about it.

“The Bible commands us to do things excellently, and to do them in order. We should have no problem with that. In fact, we should exceed that standard. We should have nothing to hide.“

Tom Bream

Tom BreamTom Bream’s dream job, from the time he was 9 years old, was to be a fighter pilot.

“I’d make Lego ships, then I’d take toy planes and bomb them,” Bream recalled. “I would read biographies of Eddie Rickenbacker, Chuck Yeager, and John Glenn. I know God has not called me to be in the ministry, at least not at this point. I did briefly consider going to law school. But I just always came back to being a pilot.”

Pursuing that dream, however, needed to include a stop at a region­ally accredited college. Only graduates of accredited colleges were eligible to apply for Officers Training School, the next step toward becoming a pilot. Bream completed his undergraduate degree at Maranatha and is scheduled to begin flight school in July of 2010.

“There are 100 guys trying for one spot, and I wanted to give myself the best chance possible,” Bream said. “If you want to be a pilot, you have to be an officer. And, if you want to be an officer, you need to have the right academic credentials. That was how I came to Maranatha.”

Daniel Birnschein

Daniel BirnscheinDaniel Birnschein returned from his weekend in Arizona with a little sunburn and a lot of frustration.

Birnschein had earned his mas­ter’s degree in music from a college that is not regionally accredited. He applied for the doctoral program at Arizona State University, and ar­ranged for an audition there in March of 2004. Just days before the audi­tion, he received a phone call that proved an unpleasant surprise.

“They told me I had been rejected because the college I had graduated from is not regionally accredited,” Birnschein said. “I told them I had already bought my plane ticket, so I was coming anyway. They seemed to like my audition, but said they still couldn’t take me. There had been other students from my college that went there, but I was told, ‘We made a mistake. We shouldn’t have let them in.’ ”

Birnschein, who now teaches at Maranatha, was eventually able to find another state university that accepted his credentials. But his case demonstrates the gamble that students at nationally accredited uni­versities take. Will their degrees be accepted by graduate programs or potential employers? It’s anybody’s guess.

Rich Anderson

Rich AndersonRich Anderson, a senior Business Management major from Denver, sought out a regionally accredited Christian college when making his choice following his senior year in high school. He learned the impor­tance of regional accreditation while watching his father navigate a dif­ficult professional experience.

Anderson said his father was at­tempting to earn a promotion within the Denver Sheriff’s Department. When city officials discovered his degree was from a Christian college that wasn’t regionally accredited, they initially denied his promotion.

“Because of that, and some other things I saw, I came to Maranatha specifically because it was a Christian college that was regionally accred­ited,” Anderson said. “I would like to get into law enforcement some day, and I don’t want to run into those problems. I just know that I will have more opportunities coming out of a regionally accredited college.”

William Licht

Education Department Chair William Licht has both first- and second-hand experience in dealing with the accreditation issue.

William LichtAfter graduating from a nation­ally accredited college, Licht was denied entrance into a state univer­sity’s graduate program because of his degree status. Since being named Chair of Maranatha’s Education De­partment, Licht said, he has received phone or email communication each week from students who have found their professional progress stalled by not having a degree from a regionally accredited college.

Licht presented as an example one letter from a parent whose daughter is a sophomore at a nation­ally accredited Christian college. The daughter had just discovered that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction would not recognize her degree, and was asking Maranatha for an equivalency endorsement on her behalf. Wisconsin will not grant a regular teaching certificate to gradu­ates of nationally accredited colleges.

“They very quickly realize it will take them months or years of effort and thousands of dollars to achieve equality with our Maranatha teach­ing degree,” Licht said.