Wednesday, October 06, 2004

On Bible Colleges and Education

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ support, by my count, 44 Christian Colleges and graduate schools. Some share campuses. Lincoln Christian College and Lincoln Christian Seminary share campuses, for example. Several of our schools claim university status indicating they exist to do more than train a ministry for the churches. Others proudly claim to be "classic Bible Colleges" carrying on the tradition of preparing preachers for pulpit ministry. These Colleges and Universities vary in enrollment from 0 (zero) to over a thousand. Enrollment in some schools rose dramatically over the past few years.

From time to time there are efforts to work out cooperative agreements or merge various schools. Lincoln Christian College now operates an extension on the campus of what was once Eastern Christian College. At one time Nebraska Christian College, Manhattan Christian College, and Minnesota Bible College (now Crossroads College) discussed merger and an ill-advised purchase of a campus in Dennison, Iowa. Kentucky Christian College and Great Lakes Christian College discussed merging to form Stone-Campbell University. A good friend of mine and I once talked (in jest) about trying to merge Boise Bible College and Intermountain Bible College and move both schools to Salt Lake City. We were uncertain, however, if we could lease facilities in the Mormon Tabernacle for our classrooms and administration. Our discussions in fun were about as successful as efforts to combine the forces of our colleges.

Oh, mergers, if you can call them that, have occurred. Intermountain Bible College closed its doors in June 1985. Boise Bible College merged the IBC library with theirs. Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University or HI-U) agreed to manage the college's records and Platte Valley Bible College tried unsuccessfully to "merge" its alumni base with those of IBC. That same year Midwest Christian College merged with Ozark Christian College. The Midwest merger came largely because the college's income was insufficient to underwrite its programs.

In my view, most mergers or cooperative efforts failed for several reasons. First, alumni and constituent support bases resisted change. They saw themselves being lost in the shuffle and service to their region reduced. Second, some colleges saw themselves as bastions of sound doctrine and they were hesitant to join a sister college they considered less firm on the fundamentals. Third, there was all that money in a given region that would dry up. Supporters of one college would often cease their support rather than shift to the support of another school.

About the only real cooperative effort that I've seen in recent years (admittedly, now, I'm out of the loop so there may be more) is the formation of the Consortium of Christian Colleges for Distance Learning. I am a part of that effort because of the invitation of Dr. James B. North to teach a section of Restoration History online. Jim and I regularly have between 60-100 students each semester in this class from a variety of Christian Colleges. Frankly, I'm uncertain exactly how the consortium started but I do know that Gordon Clymer has pushed it and his vision has guided it for some time. The consortium offers a number of online classes in youth work, world religions, history, and Bible. The consortium sees its largest enrollments in Restoration History, but that may change with the launch of North's Survey of Church History this fall.

Herein is the rub! While the consortium meets a real need for smaller schools who can ill afford to hire instructors to teach specialized courses, the consortium's potential is unrealized. In 1995 I believed online education was the "wave of the future." I no longer believe that. Online education is now! College newsletters reveal that many recognize that the bulk of students entering college are considered "nontraditional." According to a recent issue of Platte Valley Bible College's "Western Challenge," the Department of Education reports that nontraditional students comprise more than 75 percent of those entering college. Platte Valley's answer to the need is to establish extension schools in Denver and other locations. Boise Bible College is also establishing extension locations. With the technology available today it is unnecessary to go to the expense of locating facilities or paying for travel costs when students can study online. Students currently studying online in Restoration History now view Jim North's lectures via Real Media files on CDs. Some thought is being given to using DVD now that this technology is becoming widespread. With broadband, students could also access one web site any time day or night and view the lectures through streaming video. The point is, while some of our schools are developing online classes, particularly larger schools, this is a technology that could be made more widely available. In fact, it is not impossible to establish an Online Christian College utilizing the best instructors in the brotherhood to provide a quality education. It would make education available anywhere in the world at any time day or night at minimal cost. By translating materials into various languages, such classes could be made available even in the Third World as broadband eventually becomes more prevalent worldwide.

The consortium has consistently refused to even consider developing a curriculum that could lead to a degree. Why is that? The representatives of the various colleges involved rightly see online education as a threat to their existence. They often mouth platitudes that the reason they are hesitant to develop degree programs online is because of the necessity of student face-to-face interaction. In my view, the real reason is money. Our schools continue to invest millions in college campuses and other facilities. We spend additional millions on a host of instructors, many of whom have no experience in located ministry and in spite of advanced degrees are unable to communicate effectively to a generation devoted to "screen time."

When I went to Canton in 1995, I did so for several reasons. First, there was a personal need on my part growing out of frustration in my ministry and the death of my associate minister and best friend. Second, I believed the future of Christian Education rested with a megachurch committed to raising up a ministry from within utilizing resources available from Christian Colleges and Universities and providing practical experience on the field. Third, I wanted to accept the challenge of helping turn around a historic church.

Not long after arriving in Canton, Dr. North asked me to teach some graduate courses. At that time, I pushed for consideration of online education. I'd been studying the work of professors in Pennsylvania and Idaho who were developing online classes at the University of Pennsylvania and Boise State University. BSU had even taken a proposal to the State Board of Education for a Masters Degree Program in Historical Geography. It was being considered because of the distances involved for the state's teachers who had to deal with the distances between their small communities and Boise. When I made my pitch, Cincinnati Bible Seminary rebuffed it. (I was thankful they revived it sometime later, but their approach is still quite parochial.)

In my view, our 44 schools are a drain on the brotherhood's financial resources. In an era when the population is expanding exponentially worldwide we can no longer enjoy the luxury (if we ever could) of sopping up resources that could be used to take the Gospel to a lost world.

To reverse this trend, several things need to happen:
  1. Our Colleges and Universities need to start thinking outside the box. I don't know where he got it, but Bill Lown once said, "Education occurs when you have a student on one end of a log and Mark Hopkins on the other." For most of the studies necessary for ministry traning, our schools do not need the elaborate facilities with multimillion dollar chapels, administration facilities, and classrooms. They need prepared men and women who are excellent teachers and the technology to get them to the student. A raft of servers connected to T1 lines would be much less expensive than magnificent campuses. For eye-to-eye educaton, brief on-location seminars could be held. These seminars could be held in churches, rented facilities, or in facilities requiring less outlay than an entire campus.
  2. Schools need to recognize their job is to education, not build buildings. Furthermore, the schools must realize their task is to prepare a ministry. We need Christians prepared in a Christian worldview, but I learned while teaching at Malone College that just because a school calls itself a Christian College (Malone was a Friends school) does not mean they hold to a Christian worldview. I discovered that Malone faculty refused to support a Creationist Program offered in our church because "they didn't want to get involved." The real reason: The would lose money because some worldly students would not take courses on their campus.
  3. Our churches need to take seriously their responsibility to train up a ministry from within. The early church had no Bible Colleges unless you want to call the Alexandrian catechetical schools Bible Colleges. The local church raised up elders and bishops from within. Some of our megachurches are concerned only with making consumers, not making disciples. As a result, just as in Canton, proposals for in-depth training are rebuffed.
  4. In addition to working together to provide quality education online (and in other innovative ways), some of our schools could continue to exist as resource centers providing leadership for seminars, visiting lectures, and other special programs not designed as degree curriculum.

I recognize that traditional campus education will probably always be part of our tradition. I do think, however, that 44 schools, many of which are not effective, are way too many. Online education and innovative thinking could increase educational opportunity for countless individuals worldwide who currently could not or would not consider further education because it is too expensive, demands separation from their families, a loss of personal income, and more.

Little of what I've suggested will happen though. Why do I sound so pessimistic? Simply because experience tells me that existing schools protect themselves and their incomes and see themselves, whether they admit it or not, in competition with other schools for support and for students. It won't happen because there are too many presidents, deans, and faculty members whose jobs are on the line. Those beautiful buildings on multimillion dollar campuses are far more important than whether or not a student really gets a quality education.

Monday, October 04, 2004

My views on the upcoming election

Pardon me for taking a one post (I hope) redirection from my stated purposes. The directions of this year's upcoming presidential election are reprehensible. I felt like I needed to comment on some of what I'm hearing.

First, I don't think I've ever heard or seen mudslinging to extent its been done in this year's campaigns. I know there have always been dirty tricks and gobs of spin, but this year it is a bit much. The old saying is, "Mud thrown in ground lost." This year's campaign has impugned the character of both men. In my view, one candidate challenges the rhetoric of the other while his opponent calls him a liar, a deceiver, and disingenuous. I've heard accusations that one candidate used cocaine in his youth, the other was a coward who created injuries and demanded medals (which he disposed of) in order to further a future political career. I'm tired of the name calling!

Second, for more than forty years, the Americn people have made their selection largely based on style rather than substance. Thousands voted for JFK because he was so much more handsome and composed on TV. With a few exceptions, this remainded true throughout the last half of the 20th Century. In this year's first debate, nearly everyone admits the Democrat candidate won on style. One has to wonder, however, if style counts when the bullets fly! It is easy to play armchair quarterback with the presidency always criticizing a play after the fact! It is not easy to "have a plan" to solve real world problems. I'm weary of the critics who question the intelligence, integrity, and motivation of others when the hardest decision they've made is whether or not to put ketchup on their french fries.

Third, voters make their decision based on self-interest rather than on what's good for the country. Farmers vote for the candidate with the best farm policy. Businessmen generally vote for the candidate who will promise tax relief or offers plans that further business. Many citizens vote for the candidate who promises to maintain or increase their entitlements. When the Republic began, the general rule was to vote for what was best for the country as a whole. Those who called for public education did so to assure an educated citizenry who could understand the issues and make their decisions on what they believed was best for the country, not the candidate who promised to "line their pockets." I'm weary of those who depend on others to take care of them when they've made little or no provision for their own future.

Fourth, I seem to remember (not personally, of course) that George Washington warned the young nation to avoid "entangling alliances." I'm no isolationist, but when it becomes more important to appease our supposed allies rather than act on our nation's own interests we've gone a bit far. Frankly, I don't give a pile of cow dung what France or Germany thinks of us. The French have been two-faced since DeGaulle and I wouldn't trust a Frenchman with anyone, let alone a member of the opposite gender.

Fifth, I would support a candidate who called for the removal of the United States from the U.N. and the U.N. from the United States. For the last half century, the U.N. has been shown for the weak kneed, ineffective, pointless body that it is. In my view, the U.N. serves only as a place for pitiful third-world nations to cry and wail about their problems. In most cases, if those nations would recognize their systems and worldviews have failed they might pull themselves up from the muck and mire in which they find themselves. The United States has borne the brunt of the manpower and cost of nearly every U.N. program and military action. We may "owe" the U.N. lots of money, but that's only because we underwrite nearly every program. Like the League of Nations, the U.N. never worked. Let it die!

I know who I'm going to vote for. My selection has nothing to do with party affiliation. Rather, I pick my candidate based on several factors.
  1. Which candidate best reflects my values and worldview?
  2. Which candidate best understands the biblical role of government?
  3. Which candidate best reflects, in my opinion, genuine character and integrity?
  4. Which candidate is plain spoken and forthright in their statements?
  5. Which candidate, in my view, has the best intrests of the nation at heart?
  6. Which candidate make decisions based on what he believes is right, not on what others think?

I guess that pretty much tells you whom I will vote for.