Homeschooling from the time I was in kindergarten, my parents gave their lives to ensure that my siblings and I would not be sacrificed on the altar of Worldly Education. Perhaps you can relate. From phonics to physics, homeschooling was great for our family. We used curriculum from a wide variety of sources and participated in a number of extracurricular activities. Life was good.

Then it all changed. High school could not last forever. I made a really good child—but my parents were training us to be adults, not children. The final phase in my parents’ preparation program was college. My mother used to tell me that a college degree was a ticket, a stamp of approval, a weapon to use for God’s kingdom. Whether I became a missionary to Sudan teaching English as a second language or a mother teaching my own children at home, a degree would be an important tool in my toolbox.

Tragically, in the pursuit of a college degree, untold numbers of young people have had their faith and values undermined. Unwilling to compromise on faith and values, my family hit roadblocks as we looked into options for higher education. Most options seemed to contain land mines in one of three areas—faith, cost, or accreditation. It seemed that any accredited college was either publicly funded and sponsored secular indoctrination in the classroom or solid in faith and values with an exorbitant price tag. Unfortunately, in our research, the only schools which had reasonable prices and were committed to Christ and His word were also unaccredited.

Why is accreditation important? Accreditation is like a stamp of approval on a school by an outside party. Much like the Dove Foundation verifying family-friendly films, academic accrediting organizations exist to ensure a consistent level of academic excellence across a wide range of schools. Accreditation of a school ensures that each specific course requires students to achieve a set level of proficiency. These accreditation standards are valuable in providing a universal benchmark on academic quality between schools.

There are two main types of accreditation: regional and national. Over the last 200 years, regional accrediting councils have become centered on traditional academia and grant the highest form of academic accreditation for most schools. Conversely, due to the unique nature of each vocation, a number of national accrediting groups have evolved to certify standards of excellence in trade and vocational schools. For example, Atlanta Technical Institute is a nationally accredited school, and Harvard is a regionally accredited school.

However, sometimes class subjects do overlap. This is where confusion about accreditation generally occurs.  A regionally accredited school generally will not accept credit from a nationally accredited school, despite the individual credentials of the course instructor or the actual course content. This is due to the widely different set of standards used to evaluate schools by the accrediting agencies.

Accreditation is important. Very important. Unfortunately, the price tag on accreditation has in effect limited accredited schools to two categories: Christian but expensive or inexpensive but secular. For our family, this inspired a look into nontraditional college options. Could there be a way to gain that college credential without sacrificing the Christian foundation or busting the budget?  If traditional education seemed rife with pitfalls and land mines, perhaps nontraditional was the way to go.

And that is exactly what I did. Two aspects of nontraditional education worked exceptionally well for me—online learning and credit-by-examination. A little over two years after starting my college career, I took my last test, thereby completing the requirements for my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. For me, a combination of online courses and credit-by-examination provided an excellent answer to concerns about faith, cost, and accreditation.