Coffee Talk #30
May 8, 2001
By Rick Walston, Ph.D.

Table Of Contents

Of Doctoral Degrees And Martial Arts

Some comments about Accreditation

It is simply staggering to me that so many people have so many misconceptions about accreditation and some of its related issues. Once, when I was attempting to explain to a group of ministers some of the facts of accreditation, and the fact that not everyone needs an accredited degree, one minister snidely replied, "Yea, well, it's obvious that your degrees are not accredited or else you wouldn't be saying that."

So, before I go on, let me clear that up now for the record: I have four accredited degrees: one bachelor's, one master's, and two doctorates.

Thus, I do not defend unaccredited schools to make myself "look better" as that minister implied. Rather, after having done 15 years of research into this topic, I am more convinced than ever that some people simply do not need degrees from accredited schools. And, if the unaccredited schools that they earn their degrees from are legitimate, credible and academically sound, then their "unaccredited degrees" will be just fine for them.

And, not only am I convinced of this fact, but many employers are as well. More and more employers are paying the tuition for their employees who earn their degrees from unaccredited schools.

For many employers, the issue is not if the school is accredited or unaccredited, but, rather, if the education behind the studies will help that person be a better employee, pastor, teacher, missionary, etc. And, many employers are answering that question in the affirmative.

In fact, a goodly number of CES students have had their tuitions paid by their employers.

The Facts

Remember, accreditation, while good and important in the American educational system overall, is certainly not the final word about the validity or academic quality of a school. A few good schools have chosen not to become accredited for various reasons, including but not limited to the various restrictions that may be placed upon their degree offerings or upon their non-traditional mode of operation.

If a good, unaccredited school will fulfill a person's educational needs, then fine. For instance, if you are a pastor of a church, and your church or denomination does not require an accredited degree, then a credible, good, solidly academic, unaccredited degree will probably be just as good for you as an accredited one. And, the tuition at an unaccredited school is typically a fraction of the cost of tuition at accredited schools.

A Point of Clarification—Degrees Are Not Accredited

The term "accredited degrees" is a misnomer.

Wait . . . do you mind if I get off the subject here for just a moment to point out something about the word "misnomer"? Thanks . . .

The word misnomer means "an error in naming a person, place, or thing." It may also be the application of a wrong name to a person or concept. Or, it is a name wrongly or unsuitably applied to a person or an object.

The reason I point this out is because I often hear people misuse the word misnomer to apply to wrong ideas or even actions.

However, the word misnomer means " misnamed " (or "wrong name") . . . it means that a name is wrongly applied or a thing or person is wrongly labeled.

Now, back to the point . . .

The term " accredited degree " is a misnomer. And, the term "unaccredited degree" is also a misnomer. Why is it a misnomer to call a degree an accredited degree or an unaccredited degree? Because there are no such things as accredited degrees or unaccredited degrees.

Please understand that while I do often (loosely) use the misnomer "accredited degree," and I also do use the misnomer "unaccredited degree," there really are no such things as "accredited degrees" and "unaccredited degrees."

DEGREES ARE NOT accredited or unaccredited.

Only SCHOOLS ARE either accredited or unaccredited.

So, what we should be asking is not, "Do you have an accredited degree (or an unaccredited degree)?" But, rather, "Is the degree you have from an accredited or unaccredited school?"

This fact may seem trivial, but actually it becomes quite important when we talk about earning degrees from schools that are unaccredited that later become accredited. And, please remember this, no school starts out accredited, so every school that is accredited today at one time in its history granted degrees when it was unaccredited. Please keep this fact in mind as you read through the remaining portion of this CT . . . this issue will come up again.

Doctoral Degrees and Martial Arts: An Illustration

I have often thought of non-traditional education in terms of a martial arts' Black Belt. Why? Well, I have a couple friends who have Black Belts in various martial arts.

A few years ago, I was invited to attend a Black-Belt promotion of a friend. I was impressed by his agility, hitting ability, kicking ability, etc. In one case he fought three guys at once. While they got in some very good licks, he triumphed.

Another friend of mine has three Black Belts from three different institutions (and styles). He is an ex-Marine, and he's 6'4"--he's an easy going guy, but I would want an iron wall between him and me if he were angry.

I once asked the ex-Marine if we could set up a time each day so he could teach me martial arts. He has taught before at various accredited schools, but he was not teaching in a school at that time (in fact, he was pastoring).

He said, "I can teach you, but it won't mean anything."

I said, "I don't understand."

He said, "Well, if we don't do it through a recognized school, you won't get the actual Black-Belt recognition."

I smiled, and I asked him, "In four or five years after I have completed martial-arts studies with you, and you put your unaccredited stamp-of-approval on my abilities indicating that I have truly reached the Black-Belt level, if someone attempts to harm my wife, will I be able to use martial arts to adequately defend her and myself?"

"Well, of course!" he responded.

"Then why" I asked, "do I need a Black Belt from a recognized school? Isn't the real issue that I am able to defend myself and others? After all, isn't a Black Belt just a belt that's black?"

Some Case Histories of People with Unaccredited "Black-Belts"

Case History # 1: A man with an accredited master's degree had been pastoring the same church for 20 years. He lived close to an accredited seminary, so he checked out their Doctor of Ministry offering. However, they required classes that had nothing to do with his ministry, nor was he interested in them. Furthermore, he would be required to attend "school functions" that he did not feel were necessary for him. To top it off, the cost of the degree was about $12,000. So, after doing his research, he found a good, academically solid unaccredited seminary through which he was able to take the classes that he wanted to take; he didn't have to attend mandatory school functions, and the total cost of the Doctor of Ministry degree was less than $4,000. He presented this information to his church's board members, who were paying for his education, and they agreed that he should earn the D.Min. from the unaccredited seminary. He earned the degree that he always wanted while studying just the classes that were pertinent to his pastoral ministry, and all for just 1/3 the cost at the accredited seminary.

Case History # 2: A certain man always wanted an accredited Doctor of Ministry degree. However, one must have a Master of Divinity before even being allowed to enroll for the accredited D.Min. So, he found a very reputable unaccredited seminary. He earned his M.Div. for 25% of the cost at an accredited seminary. Then, on the basis of the unaccredited M.Div., he applied to and was accepted at an accredited seminary for the D.Min. He has since completed the D.Min.

Case History # 3: A man asked me: "Does it really matter if I have an unaccredited Bachelor's, and an unaccredited Master's as long as my Ph.D. is from an accredited school?" I told him that generally speaking (although, not always), a person's highest degree is the most important degree. So, he earned a B.A. and M.A. from two unaccredited schools. However, he then enrolled with a major foreign, accredited university for his Ph.D. Since his goal was the accredited Ph.D., he simply used the unaccredited degrees to qualify him for the accredited Ph.D.

Case History # 4: A man had his M.S. in Psychology from an accredited school. Based upon that degree, he was able to be a state-licensed counselor, and he was gainfully employed. He desired to earn a Ph.D. in Counseling, but he did not want to spend the "obscene amount of money or time" (his words) on campus that was required at an accredited school. Since his M.S. had opened all of the doors necessary for his career, the Ph.D. was for personal education and personal satisfaction. He was able to find a solid, unaccredited Ph.D. program in Christian Counseling.

Case History # 5: A man enrolled into an accredited doctoral degree program. Each class required one-week of campus residency. He discovered that they were willing to accept two classes from good, academically acceptable, unaccredited schools. So, he enrolled with an unaccredited school for two doctoral classes. He designed the two classes to match two classes that were offered at the accredited school. He was able to complete the two classes for less than half the cost at the accredited school and without residency, which saved him money on travel and lodging. On those two classes alone, he saved more than $1,500. Also, he saved money by not having to take two weeks off work for campus residency.

Who Are They?

There are many people out there with unaccredited degrees who are doing just fine, thank you very much. In fact, the numbers are easily in the thousands, and more likely in the hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions.

Here are Just a Few

The late Dr. Walter Martin had his Ph.D. from the unaccredited California Western University (now called California Coast University), and it was certainly a valid credential in his life. He founded the Christian Research Institute (1960). Dr. Martin was well-known for the definitive work titled, The Kingdom of the Cults (published by Bethany House Publishers) and the radio broadcast called, "The Bible Answer Man." He was recognized worldwide as an expert in Christian theology, comparative religions, and the cults (with the exception of cultists who hated him).

Dr. James R. White, apologist and author of many books on apologetics has his Th.D. from Columbia Evangelical Seminary, and it too has been a valid and valuable educational credential. His books include, but are not limited to: The God Who Justifies; The Potter's Freedom; The Forgotten Trinity; The King James Only Controversy; Letters to a Mormon Elder; Mary--Another Redeemer?

Dr. Glenn Wagner has an unaccredited Ph.D. and once served as the vice president of Promise Keepers and has taught classes for several accredited seminaries (including Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland) and has published several books including, Strategies for a Successful Marriage (NavPress), and is also contributing editor to the book, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper (Focus on the Family).

These next three men earned their doctoral degrees from Luther Rice Seminary long before it became accredited: Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., Pastor Charles Stanley, Th.D., and Dr. Stephen Olford, Founder and Senior Lecturer of the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching. He is known for his expository preaching and pastoral leadership. He too earned a Th.D. from Luther Rice Seminary prior to its accreditation. And, no, when a school becomes accredited, those who graduated before the school was accredited do not then have "accredited degrees."

Someone once said to me, "Well, Luther Rice Seminary is now accredited, so Pastor Stanley's degree is now accredited." To which I replied, "No, Pastor Stanley's degree is not accredited, and it never will be."

Remember people, schools are accredited or unaccredited, not degrees .Let me explain . . .

No Mystical Process

If you earn a degree from an unaccredited school and that school later becomes accredited, your degree does not go through some mystical "accreditation" process. And, contrary to popular belief, degrees are not somehow "grand-fathered in."

To understand this better, just think of the opposite scenario. There have been accredited schools that have lost their accreditation. But, if you earn a degree from an accredited school that later becomes unaccredited, does your degree then become unaccredited? Certainly not.

Your degree stays exactly as it was at the time you earned it.

Remember what I said above, schools are accredited or unaccredited, not degrees . So, if you have a degree from a school and if that school was unaccredited at the time you earned your degree with them, then you will always have a degree from an unaccredited school. It is just that simple.

An example: If you buy a 2001 Ford truck, and the following year Ford comes out with a 2002 model of the 2001 edition that you bought, your truck does not then mystically become a 2002 model. You can buy a new 2002 model, but your 2001 model will always be a 2001 model.

Final Explanation

Let's say that in the year 2001, you earn a degree from the unaccredited XYZ Seminary . Then, five years later in 2006, XYZ Seminary becomes accredited.

In this scenario, your 2001 degree is still from the unaccredited XYZ Seminary.

Now, you may re-enroll and do another degree with XYZ Seminary now that it is accredited, but your original (2001) degree is, and always shall be, unaccredited.

So, Spiros Zodhiates, Pastor Charles Stanley, and Dr. Stephen Olford shall always have their degrees from unaccredited Luther Rice Seminary, even though LRS is now accredited.

In the final analysis, the fact remains: unaccredited is not all bad.

In fact, for many thousands of people--both in ministry and in other fields--some unaccredited schools have provided a sound source through which they have been able to earn their degrees in their particular fields both for professional advancements and for personal achievements.

Two Readers Respond:


If your point is that unaccredited degrees or unapproved and unrecognized black belts have some degree of acceptance, I assure you, you are gravely mistaken.

No, this was not my point. The reader is here talking about what he calls "phoney credentials" (as you will see in the next line of his letter) And this is not what I was talking about. There is a vast difference between phony and unaccredited.

I am a Director of Personnel for a School District. I instituted formal charges and dismissed a teacher for a phoney credential.

Again, he misses the point: a phony credential is not what I was talking about. Anyone who has read my book, Walston's Guide, knows that I detest phony degrees and credentials.

Is it arbitrary...absolutely not! Please read my article in the November 2001 edition of Tae Kwon Do Times..Anything Easily Gotten Isn't Worth Having.

I agree with Sid here. I was simply talking about unaccredited or unrecognized, not phony and easy. There is a vast difference.


Sid really missed the point of my CT. This next email was in direct response to Sid's email. Jon also has a background in the martial arts. He writes,

I'm not sure what Coffee Talk Sid was reading! Apparently it was not the same one [above] that I read. Nowhere in your CT did you state that "easy degrees or easy black belts are worth having," nor did you state that unaccredited degrees or unrecognized black belts have the same degree of acceptance. Perhaps Sid should take a basic class in reading and comprehension and then come back and read this Coffee Talk again.


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