Westminster's Accreditation Status
August 28, 2023
Many theological institutions have diverse views on accreditation. Some view accreditation as a bad thing and something to be avoided while others celebrate their accreditation. Westminster, being an accredited institution, falls into the latter category. In this article we will discuss the reasons why Westminster is accredited, who our accreditors are, the history of our accreditation status, and how you can learn more about the accreditation process.
Reason for Accreditation
Some theological institutions, fearing that accreditors will apply pressure in an attempt to shape their curriculum, avoid accreditation. Were it the case that accreditation would come with such strings attached, Westminster would be firmly opposed to the oversight of such a organization. Our institution and its entire history is built upon absolute fidelity to the Holy Scriptures and the Westminster Standards. Anything that would threaten that fidelity is a non-starter for us.
Thankfully, we have found that the concern of accreditors accomplishing a hostile takeover of a theological institution’s curriculum is not a valid one. No school is forced to be accredited and can operate well without this status. By choosing to be accredited by a body of our peers, we are consenting to be held to standards that we have helped shape. Our peers in turn help keep us accountable to our mission. Any school can claim that they are achieving great things, but the accountability provided by the accrediting bodies help us articulate in specific ways the outcomes of our programs and offerings to ensure that we are living up to our own expectations and spurring us on to excellence in our programs and operations. In short, accreditation is one way that helps us remain above reproach.
History of Accreditation at WTS
Westminster has been accredited since 1954. Prior to that accreditation was not available to theological institutions. As soon as it was available, Westminster applied and underwent a rigorous examination process. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (now Middle States Commission on Higher Education) took account of the pledges that the faculty took and reported that
“It can easily be seen that the underlying purposes of the Seminary are unequivocally expressed, clearly understood and fully accepted by all who have any administrative or instructional voice in the procedures which are inaugurated, and results in an educational pattern in which great emphasis is put upon exposition and exegesis; which is of the conviction that depth is of far greater importance than breadth; and which insists upon a profoundly scholarly approach to the understanding of the Scriptures. So insistent, indeed, is this demand for integrity of scholarship that the men of the Faculty impressed the members of the visiting committee as possessed of notable erudition, and even the students—less erudite as they may well be—seemed to be so filled with the awareness of the need of the scholarly approach as to give to each one of them the highest possible respect for all the best attributes of a genuine scholar.”
They also commented on the grading process at the institution saying, “There is, however, plenty of evidence that the grading at the Seminary is a bit on the severe side, revealing, in the judgment of the committee, the faculty's sincere and consistent expectation of and insistence on a genuinely scholarly approach.” This comment can be attested to by many students, even to this day. What should be made plain by these comments is that the accreditation process is concerned not with the content of the teaching, but with the scholarly excellence and with fidelity to the mission of the institution. That was the purpose in 1954 and it remains so today.
Westminster is accredited by two accrediting bodies: the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). These two accrediting bodies approach accreditation in slightly different ways. MSCHE is what is considered an institutional accreditor, in that it considers our institution as a whole as it evaluates us. The membership of this accrediting body is varied, as there are fewer restrictions on the types of schools accredited. ATS, however, is a professional accreditor, which means that it only accredits schools who are involved with theological education.
MSCHE Statement of Accreditation Status:
Westminster is an accredited institution and a member of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Westminster’s accreditation status is a non-compliance warning. The Commission’s most recent action on the institution’s accreditation status on June 22, 2023 was to warn the institution. MSCHE is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The Middle States Commission on Higher Education can be contacted at 1007 North Orange Street, 4th Floor, MB #166, Wilmington, DE 19801, telephone: (267) 284-5011, website: www.msche.org.
ATS Statement of Accreditation Status:
Westminster Theological Seminary has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation (COA) of The Association of Theological Schools since 1986.
The school's accreditation was last reaffirmed in winter 2023, based on an institutional self-study report and an onsite evaluation visit by a committee of peer and public reviewers. The school’s current period of accreditation expires March 31, 2033.
The school’s current status of Accredited in Good Standing means the school meets all applicable COA Standards of Accreditation. The school demonstrates educational quality and financial stability and provides evidence that its student learning outcomes are appropriate, rigorous, and being achieved. The school has no public sanctions (notation/warning, probation, or show cause).
The school is approved to offer the following degree(s): MDiv, MA (Religion), MA (Theological Studies), MA in Counseling, ThM, DMin, PhD
The Board has granted approval for the school to offer distance (online) education at the following level: Comprehensive (Half or More of a Degree)
The school does not have approval for any additional location(s) to offer half or more of a degree.
The Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada can be contacted at 10 Summit Park Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15275, telephone: (412) 788-6505, fax: (412) 788-6510, website: www.ats.edu.
Accreditation is a celebrated process that Westminster engages in both voluntarily and enthusiastically. It provides a great deal of accountability and reassurance that we are striving towards academic excellence and living up to the very lofty standards that we have set for ourselves. It is not an obstacle to our biblical and theological fidelity but is rather a safeguard against any deviation from that fidelity. If you have any questions about the accreditation process, you can reach out to Middle States and ATS at the links provided above. Our Student Success team is also more than happy to answer any questions you might have.
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