A reader writes:
I currently have been looking online for a possible distance learning "accredited" Phd/doctorate program in theology. Can anyone point me in the right direction of a credible source?
For one here in the U.S., not really, but see below.
I have looked at a few. For example, Liberty University has a doctorate program and claims to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Is this a legitimate accreditation?
Yes, it is. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is one of the major regional U.S. accreditors. I also checked the CHEA database, and they are there (see below).
Finally by whom should a distance learning program be accredited by in order to have any legitimacy?
It depends on what country one is in. In most countries, accreditation is carried out directly by the government and there are few diploma mills. Here in the U.S., it doesn’t work quite that way. The major accreditors are private institutions, but anyone listed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a safe bet. In fact, some places (like the state of Michigan) use the CHEA database as a test of whether a degree will be honored for employment purposes and exclude schools that aren’t under the CHEA umbrella (WARNING! Evil file format [.pdf]!).
p.s. Is there a link or website where I can look up the names of universities to see if they are accredited by a credible educational institution?
Sure, you can
Now, a few further thoughts:
- I can’t recommend that you go with Liberty University as they are a Southern Baptist School. A doctorate in theology from such a place will cut absolutely no mustard in Catholic circles. Doctorates in other things, like biblical languages or biblical studies, might, but theology, no.
- I don’t think distance education has matured to the point that many accredited institutions (particularly Catholic ones) feel comfortable offering doctoral degrees at a distance. We may get to that point some day, but we ain’t there yet. That’s why such things are so hard to find.
- I can mention one place that you might want to investigate that offers a distance doctorate at least somewhat along these lines: The Maryvale Institute in Birmingham (the one in England, not Alabama) offers a doctorate in Catholic Studies. This is a research degree and not a PhD in theology. They are accredited through the UK’s Open University, if I am not mistaken.
- The real acme degree in Catholic circles is not a PhD in theology but an STD. That’s not as horrible as it sounds (it stands for Doctor of Sacred Theology). Such degrees are awared only at schools that have Vatican approval to offer them, and I am sure that none of these schools presently offers a distance STD. It probably will be a long time before any do, though other doctorates in related fields may still cut a good bit of mustard.
- When looking at accreditation issues, one has to look at look not only at the school but at the program. Some schools are accredited to offer certain degrees but not others. Make sure to inquire about whether the degree you’re after is accredited and by whom.
- You also sometimes have to look at the government. Accreditation by some governments may not be worth much internationally.
Hope this helps!