The Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University has been granted initial accreditation by the Commission on Accrediting (“Commission”) of The Association of Theological Schools (“ATS”). The current Commission membership is comprised of nearly 250 graduate theological schools in the U.S. and Canada. They include Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox graduate schools of theology and reflect a broad spectrum of doctrinal, ecclesiastical and theological perspectives.
According to Tom Tanner, Director, Accreditation and Institutional Evaluation at ATS, the entire accreditation process is rather rigorous, typically requiring six or more years to complete all three phases—from associate membership in ATS to candidate status and then accredited membership in the ATS Commission. “Wesley Seminary completed the entire process in about two and a half years, which is very unusual. They are what we call a “fast-track” school in the accreditation process,” Tanner says.
A key reason for Wesley Seminary’s ability to complete that process quickly can be attributed to being part of a larger university; this provides them with resources beyond what other member candidates may have at their disposal. Another factor that helped move Wesley Seminary along in the process, according to Tanner, is understanding its identity. “This school has a clear vision of who it is, whose it is, and why it is,” he states.
Wesley Seminary had other strengths that played a role in its swift accreditation as well. It is the first ATS school to be granted initial accreditation that offers Spanish-language Master’s programs for pastors, teachers and church leaders throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The Seminary is also the first ATS school where a majority of students are taking online courses, as well as the first ATS school to be granted an exception to ATS’ normal residency requirements due to its strong online academic program. The strength of the faculty and staff and their innovative approach to graduate theological education were also significant factors.
IWU’s diversity was also singled out as a significant positive, as noted by a peer review committee member. “The diversity within the Wesley Seminary community was among its best strengths, exemplified in a missionally-driven entrepreneurial spirit that is focused on global engagement in culturally contextualized ways, exemplified in such commendable initiatives as a Spanish language M.Div. for Hispanics and an urban extension site targeting African-Americans.”
With an enrollment of over 400 students, Wesley Seminary — founded in 2009 — stands to see an increase in its student population with this new credential. “While our enrollment is already exceeding expectations,” says Wayne Schmidt, Vice President of Wesley Seminary, “there are some denominations and churches that require their pastors only attend seminaries accredited by ATS – we now meet that criteria, so we have a greater potential pool from which to draw students.” Ken Schenck, Dean of Wesley Seminary, explains that “ATS accreditation is the key accreditation for seminaries. Many ministry-related organizations, such as military chaplaincy programs, look for ATS accreditation as an indication that candidates for their programs have degrees that reach a certain standard. There are certainly doors to potential student groups that didn’t stand a chance of attending our seminary until we had ATS accreditation.”
To qualify for ATS accreditation, a seminary must graduate its first Master of Divinity students before it can apply for membership. Once it has been accepted as a member, it can apply for full accreditation, complete its self-study and host an accreditation site visit, the results of which are voted on by the Board of Commissioners. “For a seminary to complete this process within five years of its founding is rare,” Schmidt affirms. “The overall strength of Indiana Wesleyan University was most definitely an asset in making that possible.” Additional benefits of accreditation include the ability to qualify for certain foundation grants, connection to a strong network of relationships and resources, and the attainment of a new level of credibility in the broader academic community of seminaries.