By Dean Collins
President, Point University,
West Point, Georgia
When I think about the future of Christian higher education in general—and the colleges that come from our tradition in particular—my mind is conflicted. Will I operate out of fear of the brutal realities we face, or with faith that God wants us to do what we are called to do?
About 13 years ago, Bob Andringa, then president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, predicted that in 25 years, 25 percent of Christian colleges would be out of business. I don’t know all of the reasons behind Andringa’s prediction, but I do know Christian colleges are facing enormous challenges today.
In the last 13 years, our economy has weakened, while the cost of higher education increased—sometimes dramatically. At the same time, innovation has come to the world of higher education at an unprecedented pace. No one could have predicted the rise of for-profit universities, online programs, and distance education; the federal pressure to guarantee jobs upon completing college; or even free college education programs.
Today, many state colleges and universities offer price tags significantly lower than what private, Christian colleges can afford to charge. Parents, battling a weak economy and their own tight budgets, are faced with no way to pay for their students to attend a Christian college—even when they want to offer that option to their sons or daughters.
In many parts of the country, the number of high school graduates is declining. Several studies also point to a declining number of students who say that faith is important to them. These two realities create challenges for Christian colleges, many of which are already struggling with enrollment and finances.
As college presidents, we also observe dramatic changes in our churches. Our fellowship has a significant percentage of our country’s megachurches, yet a number of our smaller churches are closing each year. As this happens, more and more of our growing churches are informally developing their own leaders, or, like Christ’s Church of the Valley (CCV) in Peoria, Arizona, are developing leadership residency programs to prepare young men and women for leadership roles in the church. CCV is partnering with several of our colleges in this effort. I believe such programs will continue to grow and will help create a new paradigm for developing church leaders.
These are harsh realities. And from time to time they can cause fear to fill my mind. But I suspect I am not alone among Christian college presidents who, instead of hiding in our fear, choose to operate in hope and faith instead. In challenging times, we must remember the Bible teaches us the church will not fail. God’s kingdom will expand.
Why We Exist
My hope for Christian higher education lies in the reasons we do what we do. Christian colleges exist to train leaders for the church or to prepare Christian leaders and change agents for the marketplace, or both. Our college presidents have the exciting opportunity to participate in training the next generation of biblically sound leaders who are equipped with a ministry tool kit to help meet the complexities of the changing church landscape.
The next generation of leaders in growing churches will need to have strong leadership and business skills; they must understand the digital marketplace, as well as possess human resource and management skills that can transcend generational differences.
Future leaders must be equipped and ready to lead in multicultural contexts. The Pew Research Center predicts the non-Hispanic white population will grow more slowly than other ethnic groups in the coming decades. Our growing churches must have knowledgeable leadership to effectively navigate through the changes on the horizon. At Point University, for example, we have seen dramatic growth in students of color in recent years, and believe we can actively participate in training multicultural leaders.
Finally, as a former campus minister, I believe in the role of state universities, and especially of campus ministries like Auburn Christian Fellowship, where I served for 10 years. Campus ministries serve a vital role in reaching these university students for Christ. However, campus ministries cannot provide the same Christian educational firepower as Christian colleges, nor can they provide all of the Christian worldview training. Perhaps there is a place for partnership between Christian colleges and campus ministries; the former excel at helping college students develop a Christian worldview, and the latter offer opportunities to attract a whole new audience to the idea of transformative leadership in the church.
I strive to live out my faith in openness to God, so he can move me wherever he wants me to serve. Yet even with challenges facing Christian colleges, I cannot think of a job that allows me to have a bigger kingdom impact than training the next generation of Christian leaders.
Dean Collins serves as president of Point University, West Point, Georgia.