ACCREDITATION IS NOT JUST an academic invention. Rather, it’s at the core of an educational institution and thus of primary concern to a governing board. That’s one of the key messages that Daniel O. Aleshire imparts in this issue’s cover story, which you can read on pages 6-10.
Most board members, of course, want their schools to be fully accredited. But just what that means and how to achieve it is something they generally leave to the school’s administration and faculty. But as Aleshire reminds us, three issues that should concern boards are central to accreditation: resources, mission, and outcomes.
Aleshire’s brief and illuminating history of accreditation points out that the original focus of accreditation was on resources. In the earliest days of accreditation, institutions had to prove that they had enough of the right kind of resources—library books, degreed faculty, adequate facilities, appropriately prepared students, and more.
Today, boards and administrators still struggle with resources. In fact, most board members assume that is the primary issue and that their most important task is to identify and secure resources for the school.
But resources are only the beginning. They are essential, but not definitive. Significant resources mean little if they are not used to fulfill a clearly defined mission. And assessing whether a school is achieving its mission is something that accrediting agencies do, but boards should too.
New board members sometimes arrive at their first meetings feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, or awed. They sometimes hesitate to ask the questions that are tugging at them, fearing that such questions are too simple, unimportant, or diversionary. But simple can be better, and the deepest concerns of the board often go right to the heart of the mission: “What is the real purpose of this seminary?” “What is the core of what we do?” “For whom do we do it?” Asking these simple questions can press the whole institutional community to become clearer about the mission.
In the end, most theological school boards are concerned that their programs are producing graduates who will be effective in various ministry settings and roles, whether preaching, teaching, service, pastoral care, or administration. During my tenure as a seminary president, board members told me again and again: “I serve on this board and support this seminary because I want better pastors for our churches.”
“Better pastors” is an educational outcome. And as Aleshire points out, measuring outcomes is difficult but absolutely critical to a theological school’s credibility. Board members should not hesitate to press for evidence of these outcomes. By doing so, they are probing at the heart of accreditation, because only by measuring outcomes can a school know if it is fulfilling its mission.
So boards can’t leave accreditation up to the administration or faculty alone. They have a role too—a critical part to play in ensuring ample resources, establishing and maintaining a mission, and assessing outcomes.
A blessed new year to you, your family, and your institution.