There are three usual types of accreditation: national, regional, and specialized accreditation that apply to academic programs. Here this process involves
non-governmental entities (accrediting organizations) as well as federal
and state government agencies (together these three entities are formally known
as the Triad). The accrediting agencies look at much more than curriculum. These include: mission, goals and objectives; faculty; curriculum and instruction; students; research; extension and community involvement; library; physical facilities' labs; and administration. It is supposed to be quality assurance but it ends up being much more than this. In the end, accreditation also involves the shaping of the curriculum, values, and practices of the institutions it accredits. It also dictates who may enter and who may not. Nowhere is this more true than with the seminaries; where once we had the freedom to choose, now accreditation means that a baccalaureate degree is a minimum standard and few may enter a seminary without it.
Accrediting agencies do not simply attest to the standards of excellence of the academic and practical aspects of a particular school, they also apply the commonly held standards of other institutions and current values and patterns in educational thinking as they accredit those institutions. In other words, they do not simply make a judgment about the academic standing of a school but also have something to say about how that school operates, who its faculty might be, and what policies might govern that institution's life.
The current situation among the Concordias of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has something to do with accreditation. The woke values that are currently in vogue among the elite universities of America are also being thrust upon our small schools and the threat that forces some of this is accreditation, access to money, and the adjusted value of their degrees. Long before there was a woke idea or culture, there was a push to drive our schools that came not from the LCMS or even from the students there but from an educational culture with values applied by accrediting agencies. Our two year system of junior colleges soon was replaced with a four year college that resulted in the closing of two schools (Winfield, KS and Concordia, MO) and contributed to the disruption and closing of our system of preparing pastors (and the closing of Concordia Senior College). The decisions to enroll non-synodically trained students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and to compete for students from among the synodically trained pool of the Concordia colleges at Concordia Theological Seminary (then Springfield) radically reshaped how we train, judge, certify, and even recruit pastors for the church.
We did this somewhat naively thinking that this was in our best interest as a church body as well as in the best interest of our students and the mission of the Concordias to train church workers. But was it in the best interests of all of these? We cannot turn back the clock but we can learn some lessons from our past. Right now our universities are competing for students on a grand scale and not simply for Lutheran young men and women, trying to stay alive amid the cut throat business of student recruitment, mission definition, raising of money, and recruitment of faculty. We left them pretty much on their own because we thought we could trust their leaders, we did not have the time or money to manage them more closely, and we did not realize how much they would change when church worker preparation no longer dominated those campuses -- AND we did not anticipate the influence accreditation would have on their very identity.
While this history cannot be undone, we ought to learn that there are tradeoffs along the way. Even the seminaries are not without the influence of the accrediting agencies -- although there it is easier to counter that pressure. There is no easy path -- not ever -- to the careful management of God's resources for His purpose. I hope we have learned our lesson and, as a former president said, trust but verify is the only credible path forward.