Some thoughts on ATS options

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by telefax, Sep 26, 2009.

  1. telefax

    telefax New Member

    While I support *in principle* the idea of seminaries being exempt from accreditation, I still encourage potential students who ask me to look at those that are regionally and ATS accredited, both for utility and quality assurance. I’ve mentioned in the past that for theological education, ATS accreditation is the gateway for many denominations. Some ATS doctoral programs require that applicants hold an ATS masters. Some ATS schools require that faculty applicants hold an ATS doctorate. When I started looking at the world of theological education, I saw primarily the utility issue, and interpreted ATS as more of a marketing tool for schools. If there were non-ATS schools that could put their students through the ancient languages and get some of their grads into accredited doctoral programs, then what use was ATS?

    While I think the utility issue is legitimate in this world we live in, let’s talk instead about the quality under the ATS label providing the utility. I had the opportunity to take courses at six different seminaries (1 unaccredited, 1 regional only, and 4 RA/ATS) for my M.Div. and Th.M. I was curious about accreditation issues, having in my previous career been a trainer for a law enforcement agency under a somewhat similar certification process from the State. When I talked about accreditation with administrators and professors at the ATS schools, they groused about the fees and requirements of accreditation visits. However, they all attributed significant improvements in quality to the process and said it was definitely worthwhile. As an end user, I saw a qualitative difference that definitely favored the ATS-accredited schools.

    Now I realize that my (admittedly subjective) thoughts on this may seem disheartening to some seeking quality theological education, as ATS does not allow schools to offer completely online programs. However, there are two which I commend to the board, which are a) established programs with a reputation for high quality, and b) have well-regarded online components with classes which are actually equivalent to their on-campus classes.

    Reformed Theological Seminary’s Virtual Campus
    • 54 hrs towards the 60 hr M.A. can be taken online.
    • The remaining 6 hrs must be taken on campus through semester-long or modular courses at Jackson, Orlando, Charlotte, Washington D.C., or Atlanta campuses.

    Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Semlink Program
    • 18 hrs towards the 60 hr M.A. and 30 semester hrs towards the 90 hr M.Div. can be taken through Semlink.
    • The remaining courses must be taken on campus through semester-long or modular courses at South Hamilton, Boston, Charlotte, or Jacksonville campuses.
    • GCTS is a member of the Boston Theological Institute, so if you live in Massachusetts, you can take electives through any of the other B.T.I. member schools (Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Episcopal Divinity School, Andover-Newton, St. Vladimir), although I’m not sure those would count toward the GCTS resident classes.

    Also, note that ATS is an American/Canadian accreditor. None of this is intended to promote a North American chauvinism, as there are excellent foreign schools with distance learning options which I have recommended here.

  2. telefax

    telefax New Member

    Covenant Seminary

    I also wanted to add a third major offering, albeit a bit more specialized.

    Covenant Theological Seminary offers their Th.M. in a modular format, a real opportunity as most such programs are entirely residential.
    • Admission requires the M.Div. with Greek and Hebrew.
    • The majors are Exegetical Theology or Biblical and Pastoral Theology.
    • The program includes 30 semester hrs, combination of intensive week-long on-campus residencies, adviser-guided independent studies, and self-study courses. Transfer credit is allowed, but not to exceed 12 semester hrs.
  3. PatsFan

    PatsFan New Member

    Dave, I also have a bias in theological education that is both ATS and RA. My Master of Arts in Religion is RA but not ATS accredited; it was scrutinized a little bit more closely by seminaries when I was seeking MDiv equivalency to apply to D.Min programs. At least one RA/ATS seminary would not recognize the degree. Where are you doing the Ph.D?

  4. PatsFan

    PatsFan New Member

    I noticed only one of the two ThM tracks at Covenant Seminary requires a thesis. I've always thought of the ThM as preparing one for a PhD. My personal opinion is that if someone is Ph.D bound, they are not getting their money's worth if they don't do the thesis.

  5. telefax

    telefax New Member

    Hello Tom my friend,

    I hadn’t caught that omission in one of the Th.M. programs at CTS, but yes, I definitely agree regarding the need for the thesis component. The Th.M. is designed to help you specialize and become a researcher, and a substantial thesis is integral to both. I think without that, the Th.M. would not be considered equal to the M.Th. in most foreign countries where it is almost always a research degree, and exceptions are usually listed as M.Th. (taught) to distinguish them. US students seeking information here on DL doctorates in the Commonwealth countries should be aware of that, and I believe both Cory Seibel and Bill Grover mentioned the importance of the thesis for their acceptance.

    Oh, and check your PM inbox. :)

  6. telefax

    telefax New Member

    And last, here are some major schools which are minor players in the DL world, but might be useful for those in the Chicago or Philly areas who could complete the degree through residence or modular courses. While neither school specializes in DL, both have a strong reputation and offer everything from a non-research master's up to the research doctorate.

    Westminster Theological Seminary allows 25% of its degrees to be completed using materials from the Institue of Theological Studies. WTS is a major player in the Reformed world, and although it has historic ties to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church it is technically non-denominational.

    Trinity Evangelical Divinity School offers DL courses towards their MA in Christian Studies, which can be transferred up to an M.Div. later. Trinity is the denominational seminary of the Evangelical Free Church, but not everyone realizes that, as they make no issue of it and have excellent students from across the spectrum. Last but not least, this is *NOT* in any way affiliated with the unaccredited and similarly named "Trinity Theological Seminary" in Indiana, to which many threads are dedicated here, i.e. "Need some advice about Trinity Seminary".
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2009
  7. emmzee

    emmzee New Member

    One addition re ATS degrees ... (also, I agree with what has been said here, with the caveat that I have an ATS degree :D)

    Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, mentioned previously in this thread, offers their "Dimensions of the Faith" program for free online:

    After completing the 10 courses online you receive a certificate from GCTS. Note that these are not quick courses ... there are 11-12 hours of lectures for each one, plus an online exam (multiple choice I think) for each course. Also note that "the Dimensions of the Faith certificate program is neither a degree program nor transferable into any degree program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary."

    Still, if you just want to learn, these are great resources (I've almost finished my first course and the lectures have been GREAT so far) ... and you do get a certificate awarded by an ATS school if you actually stick with it and complete them all :)
  8. lchemist

    lchemist New Member

    Fuller Theological Seminary, offers fully accredited distance learning master’s-level courses

    Fuller’s Master of Arts in Global Leadership can be earned primarily online. This degree program allows existing leaders in ministry, mission and parachurch organizations to remain in their leadership positions while they learn.

    Fuller’s Certificate of Christian Studies can also be earned online.

    Fuller Online (FOL) courses allow students to study a range of theological and missional subjects via a highly interactive platform over the Internet, with weekly interaction during a 10-week course period.

    Individualized Distance Learning (IDL) courses afford students great flexibility for independent study through media assisted materials.
  9. Malajac

    Malajac Member

    GCTS "Dimensions of the Faith" program is nice, I liked the "Creation, Covenant, and Kings" lectures very much. After passing the exam for that course I got a bit impatient and simply tested out of 5 more but that was not nearly as fun as actually listening to the lectures. Now that you mention it, I should probably go back there and redo those courses and the remaining 4. :)
  10. telefax

    telefax New Member

    For those interested, here’s the link to the accrediting standards of the Association of Theological Schools.
  11. telefax

    telefax New Member

    ...and the alphabetical list of ATS member schools.
  12. telefax

    telefax New Member

    The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is SACS and ATS accredited, and is offering their Ph.D. in Christian Philosophy, Apologetics & Worldview, World Religions, etc. through a modular format.
  13. telefax

    telefax New Member

    Columbia International University

    ATS/SACS accredited Columbia International University/Columbia Biblical Seminary offers the non-thesis M.A. and the M.Div. via a combination of distance learning and modulars. They have it pretty structured: two trips a year to Columbia, SC (or a branch campus in Atlanta), for two modular courses each visit. That satisfies the residence requirements, the remaining courses are via distance learning. M.A. in 40 months, M.Div. in 60 months. They’re interdenominational, and have been around over 80 years.
  14. emmzee

    emmzee New Member

    Came across this one today, thought I'd add it to the list:

    Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College (Cochrane, Alberta, Canada)
    Seminary is accredited by both ATS and ABHE
    Offers MDiv and MA in Christian Education via distance but requires on-campus intensives for each; how many exactly is unclear from the website but it is probably stated somewhere.
    Tuition seems to be $220CDN/credit + $25 tech fee/credit + $20 student fee/credit = total of $265/credit or $24,380 (Canadian$) for the degree (plus various one-time fees of course)

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