Unification News for January, 1997

UTS Receives MSA Accreditation

by Gareth Davies-Barrytown, NY

On Monday, December 11, President Shimmyo received notification that the Seminary's application for accreditation had been approved by the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) which is a unit of the Middle States Association (MSA.)

This means that UTS will now be recognized nationally and internationally as a graduate educational institution and that, consequently, the degrees held by UTS graduates will be universally acknowledged as valid master's degrees.

A long struggle

It was in October 1987 that UTS first applied to the CHE for candidacy. In May 1988, UTS received a visit from an MSA evaluation team and was approved for candidacy. For the next eight years, the Seminary would endeavor to respond to the concerns and the advice of the various consultants and evaluators who visited the campus.

In the Spring term of 1993, the Seminary's "Self Study" process began as a requirement toward accreditation and in May 1994, President Shimmyo and his new administration took over and completed this unfinished task. In April 1995, an evaluation team led by Dr. Mathew Quinn of Carroll College, Montana, was impressed by much that had been done at the Seminary but still expressed some concerns and the CHE determined that these were serious enough to warrant a deferral of any action on accreditation pending a report followed by another team visit. The following twelve months were a period of intense activity as the Trustees, administration, faculty and staff tried to ensure that every concern was fully addressed. When the evaluation team paid a follow-up visit to UTS in October 1996, they described the efforts and improvements of the past year as "remarkable" (see the October issue of The Cornerstone) and on November 20, 1996, the commissioners of the CHE voted to accept their report and to approve the application of the Unification Theological Seminary.

While reviewing the victory, President Shimmyo expressed his gratitude to certain key contributors. "UTS was very lucky this time because, at the right time, we had a capable Controller, an able Plant Director and a new Board chairperson who helped to address the three MSA concerns about us: financial stability, physical plant and governance. I deeply appreciate them and also others," he said.

This is perhaps the most significant development at UTS since the Seminary received its absolute charter from the New York Board of Regents in 1990. New York State is unique in that it grants accreditation as well as charters. Dr. Jennifer Tanabe reports that this uniqueness has sometimes been problematic. "Being accredited by New York State alone has limited the recognition accorded to UTS degrees," she said. "Institutions in other states and countries don't always recognize New York State accreditation without regional (MSA) accreditation and that is why this recent victory is so important."

What is MSA?

The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools was established in 1887 as a nonprofit, voluntary association dedicated to educational improvement through evaluation and accreditation. The member institutions are located in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and several overseas locations with institutions which are chartered in one of the states within the MSA region. There are five other regional accrediting associations in the United States, each responsible for a specific geographic area.

MSA activities are carried out by three commissions which work with institutions at the levels of elementary, secondary and higher education. The Commission on Higher Education, which handled UTS's application, was established in 1919. It has four major purposes:

* To evaluate institutions of higher education based on standards developed by the member institutions.

* To accredit those institutions which meet the standards for accreditation.

* To assist institutions in as many ways as possible to improve their programs and services.

* To work closely with other organizations in promoting educational improvement.

CHE member institutions are evaluated every five years and the CHE is itself evaluated every five years by the US Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation. These, however, are not themselves accrediting bodies.

In assessing the significance of MSA accreditation, Academic Dean Dr. Michael Mickler, who was instrumental in preparing the Self-Study document and the follow-up report, pointed out that the phrase "regional accreditation" can be misleading. "There is no national accrediting body which oversees the regional associations," he said, "and so it would be incorrect to think of MSA accreditation as `merely regional.' Beyond the level of the regional associations, institutions usually seek accreditation from associations of peer institutions which share their specialty. In the case of UTS, this would be the Association of Theological Schools," he said. 

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