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