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Theological Education's Influences Reshaping Accreditation Standards

Theological Education's Influences Reshaping Accreditation Standards ATS  Lilly Foundation Funding Grants Insights into Religion News
Some 260 academics from 110 U.S. and Canadian seminaries and divinity schools have concluded nearly two years of intense study of theological education, and their final reports may influence the reshaping of accreditation standards.
 
The Education Models and Practices project was launched and guided by the Association of Theological Schools to harness the expertise of deans, faculty and program directors divided into 18 peer groups.
 
They were charged with drilling into curricula, programs, and practices across institutions, including formation in online contexts, duration of Master of Divinity degrees and competency-based education.
While peer group topics were distinct and well defined, the process of in-person and conference call meetings addressing ATS-provided questions often necessitated forays into deeper philosophical and theological issues.
 
“One of the major questions was formation,” said Duane Harbin, assistant dean for technology, planning, and compliance at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. He was the report writer for the peer group focused on the relevance of the Mdiv degree.
 
“We found there are a lot of assumptions about formation. All of us went after that,” Harbin said.
 
It was simply the nature of process.
 
“You can’t talk about these programs without pulling on all of these threads,” Harbin said.
 
For Josephine Lombardi, an associate professor at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough, Ontario, one of the threads included seeing best practices in Catholic lay theological education.
 
“What was affirmed is that we need lay people to form other lay people,” said Lombardi, writer of the Roman Catholic Schools Formation of Laity peer group report.
 
The process also affirmed the serious fiscal realities of theological education, said Maisha Handy, vice president of academic affairs and provost at The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
 
Handy, the report writer for the Historically Black Schools peer group, said the historically black theological schools often face the stressors its students do.
 
“It’s the financial challenges that surround theological education and the fact that many of the historically black schools don’t have the endowments you see in larger schools,” she said.
 
A recent ATS article reported the peer group reports offer the organization much to ponder as it considers redeveloping its Standards of Accreditation.
 
“These reports offer a practical review of models and practices that are working in some contexts and could be adopted with success in others,” Steve Graham, senior director of programs and services at ATS, said in the article.
 

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