To What Degree Do We Separate?

So, I had a moment to open my latest issue of CT (Christianity Today) and in short time came upon “A Degree of Contention,” (Kate Shellnut). While it’s a somewhat brief article, the author makes some rather interesting points; points that should be discussed in more detail. So K.S. has done her job here quite well. She has introduced a topic which indeed demands discussion and debate.

Yes, I have heard the term before, “Diploma Mills,” but honestly have never given the subject much deliberation. I would be interested in the author sharing her list of institutions that she, or others consider to be Diploma Mills.

Apparently, according to K.S., these so called diploma mills “offer to extend a degree to anyone who fills out a form or completes basic coursework, rather than the traditional, years-long degree path required for doctoral study.” Since I have never personally looked into acquiring a doctorate, by means of a long-path let alone a “short” path, I can’t say I am familiar with these types of institutions.

And, while the author did specify the degree in which she was targeting at the end of that paragraph, it did start me thinking about her topic more generally.  It’s my understanding that there is myriad of organizations that hand out an array of licenses and ordinations at the drop of a whim. It reminds me somewhat of those online organizations that offer “officiant” licenses, enabling friends and family to perform wedding ceremonies for one another.

As I write this, I am recalling a “bit” on either  a news program or one of those entertainment-news programs, that provided a clip of actor Tom Hanks saying that he was an ordained minister. Now, I’m not using this with a negative connotation, but it did somehow strike a chord with me. I have since learned that numerous actors claim to have become ordained ministers.

However, I have not seen any of them leave behind their acting careers to preach. I have gladly heard others share their faith and do so through their acting/directing; the two most famous that I can think of are Kevin Sorbo and Kirk Cameron. And while I might recall a few others, I’ll leave it simply with those two.

My apologies, didn’t intend to get off-track here. Again, the author did not provide a list of the institutions she felt  were “diploma mills.” As a minister myself, and someone who is working towards a Bachelor’s in Divinity (via online schooling), I remember my time surfing the net to find “real” and “quality” schooling.

While there are, I’m sure, many who can afford to attend campuses such as Fuller Theological Seminary and Dallas Seminary, there are many (myself included) who cannot. However, that does not mean I was looking for some website that would hand me a degree simply because I filled out an application.

I was interested in real studies. I chose an online Christian school that provided free educational training. It turned out, it isn’t free. It might have been free to me in the beginning, because many generous people and corporations, through donations and support, made it available to me. I now am paying the fees associated with a degree program; much of my costs are still covered by the gifts and grace of many others.

I am very grateful to Christian Leaders Institute (CLI), and it’s many donors and supporters for offering me a quality Ministry education. I have been a student of CLI for three years now. The cost not withstanding, I went with CLI because it provided real courses.

I’m not sure whether the author of this CT article would agree, since she used the term, “basic course.” She simply has not added her definition to the term. Again, my schooling was not free. (It was the financial offerings and support from so many others that provided the schooling to me; scholarship).

With my own disclaimer behind me, allow me to say I agree with the summation of the author’s opinion. I do believe there are diploma mills out there. And that fact indeed makes it somewhat challenging for some to discern between them and a real educational program. The fact that I’ve been a student with CLI for three years (and continuing) might tell you I didn’t just complete an online form and get handed anything.

A question I might add to the conversation is, who gets to decide what a proper education is; who has the right to administer it and who has the right to hand out degrees of any level? At best, I can only see that it is “government,” (state, federal, etc.) that makes the determination, via what they call accreditation.

So how does the government discern between them? Is it the prestige in the name, such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Cambridge, Oxford? Does it depend on how many centuries ago the university was established? Is it the extraordinary cost of the education?

No, I do not want to see doctorates or any other higher-education degrees just handed out at the drop of a quarter. (I know the phrase is, a dime, but inflation). I don’t think any institution worth its salt wants that; it lessons the meaning for all the others I agree. The conversation that this CT author has begun completely has its merit and calls for further discussion. I sincerely look forward to hearing from others about this.


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