By Jim Nieman
Two Canadian Christian colleges have undergone major changes over the course of the last several months.
At Alberta Bible College in Calgary, the disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the school to deliver its classes via an online method since the springtime.
“We weigh the information we receive from Alberta Health Services weekly and are trying to determine if beginning some physical classes in January is prudent,” president Stanley Helton said.
Maritime Christian College also has seen disruption, but those changes were in motion even before the coronavirus began dominating the world’s headlines.
MCC—located in Charlottetown, the capital of the province of Prince Edward Island—has seen declining enrollment for years, which largely has reflected church attendance trends in its region and in eastern Canada, said MCC chief operating officer Richard Jones.
“For the past several years, [we] have wrestled with the challenge of how to re-make MCC to be more effective in fulfilling its kingdom mission,” Jones said. After MCC’s president resigned in September 2019, the “board of directors continued to press forward with plans for a major revamping of MCC’s curriculum and course delivery mechanisms.”
A new strategic plan was adopted in January, followed by a series of new initiatives to “support churches through providing high-quality online higher education resources on an ‘anytime, anywhere’ basis to their members.”
Jones paused to explain that Canada is rapidly becoming a post-Christian society—a country that claims certain virtues rooted in a Christian worldview, while selectively rejecting the truths that make those values possible.
“One of the differences between the States and Canada,” Helton added, “is that citizens here are generally more compliant to governmental restrictions and even suggestions—which I believe is one of the reasons Canada has done such a good job in containing COVID-19.
“However, Canada is more intrusive in things of this nature, and so the restrictions for opening churches and post-secondary schools are more onerous,” Helton continued. “Our churches are beginning to open for live services, but with only about one-third of the former attendance exacerbated by social-distancing protocols.”
Here is a more detailed look at what’s been happening at these two colleges.
ALBERTA BIBLE COLLEGE
This past spring, Alberta Bible College took advantage of a winter storm one Friday to test its preparedness for delivering class instruction via Zoom, president Stanley Helton said. It was a prescient decision, as closures due to COVID-19 occurred shortly thereafter.
“When we were required to move everything to a videoconferencing format, we were ready. Our students have reported back that they have been pleased with this transition even though it might not be their preferred mode of learning.”
Founded in 1932, ABC offers certificates, diplomas, and degrees related to biblical studies, minister preparation, counseling, and leadership. “Alberta Bible College is committed to preparing people for what’s next in their journeys with God,” Helton said.
The school saw only a slight drop in its student population from fall 2019 to fall 2020—from 81 to 77. The school does not offer on-campus student housing.
“Because of the way we structure our course delivery [utilizing six-week modules], students can enter at virtually any time in the year, so our fall numbers never capture the total number of students we serve during any given year.”
The total headcount for all of the last school year was 120, and Helton said ABC expects to exceed that number this school year.
Alberta Bible College is in an interesting position of relying on rental income of its property, a former YMCA, Helton said. Its gym and chapel are in high demand, and especially so because “many public facilities have reduced the accessibility to their properties” during this pandemic.
Consequently, the school must satisfy two sets of regulations, one for postsecondary educational institutions and the other for use of recreational space.
“The irony of having renters on campus and students off campus does not elude us,” Helton said. “If we don’t keep our rentals afloat, we will most likely have a financial deficit at the end of the year. If we mix our students with our rentals coming in and out of the building, we increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.”
Helton said the virus also has posed a challenge with regard to ABC’s international students. He said there are “three levels of administration with each detail” related to “welcoming our international students.” Additionally, international students are required to quarantine for two weeks upon entering the country.
“The border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed to unnecessary travel and this has impacted international students’ ability to enter the country,” Helton said. “Having said this, we are poised to take in international students and we welcome American students who will get good value for their dollar, and while here in Canada, they will be covered by the quality health care all Canadians enjoy.”
This season of COVID-19 has caused the school to make several hard decisions, Helton said.
“In Alberta currently, the number of cases is rising but the number of hospitalizations, people in the ICU, and deaths have remained constant throughout the pandemic,” he said. “This context makes for some tough decisions because as the cases rise, the likelihood that COVID-19 will find its ways into ABC-related activities increases.”
MARITIME CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
MCC had 11 total students in fall 2019 (4 full-time, 1 part-time, and 6 who were auditing). By this fall, total students had increased to 30 (3 full-time, 23 part-time, and 4 who are auditing).
The change in the makeup of the student body has largely resulted from MCC’s radical redesign of its curriculum to focus on disciple-making. Course offerings for this fall are divided into three streams:
• MCC’s “Foundations” courses lead to a Biblical Studies Certificate (1 year) and a Bachelor of Arts (Bible) degree (4 years). These courses are offered in a traditional live format.
• The school’s “Equipped” courses include a new Disciple Maker Certificate (1 year/10 courses) and a Bachelor of Bible and Ministry degree (2 years). The Disciple Maker Certificate was designed for the Christian who wants to expand their knowledge and practical application of the Great Commission to “make disciples who make disciples.” These courses are offered only in an online format that students can take from their home, on their own time schedule.
• The third course stream, called “CoVocational,” offers students a CoVocational Certificate (1 year/10 courses). This program was developed for the Christian who senses a calling to start new ministries in nontraditional formats, or for Christians with an entrepreneurial mind-set—meaning, those willing to explore new business models for different ways to start and fund disciple-making churches.
“We started the CoVocational Certificate program as a way to encourage Christians to start new ministries in unique new ways, using disciple-making principles as a foundation,” said Richard Jones, who is handling day-to-day oversight of the college. “We believe this will be a catalyst to new church plants, but in a far more cost-effective way than the model we’ve been using for the past 20 years.
“We are not aware of any other Christian college in North America with a CoVocational program like MCC’s,” Jones added.
Maritime Christian has remade itself, in part, through reaching a formal partnering agreement with Renew.org. That partnership has allowed MCC to access resources within Renew.org’s network to support its disciple-making curriculum. Individuals associated with Renew.org have authored books used in the curriculum, designed and instructed several of the online courses, filled the role of discipling “mentor” to MCC coaches, and provided advice to guide MCC’s focus on disciple-making, Jones said.
Other important developments at MCC have been the hiring of Dr. Jerry Scripture as director of online learning to oversee the development of the new online courses, and a “digital re-platforming” project to completely redesign MCC’s website. The information technology infrastructure also has been upgraded and all registration processes have been moved online. MCC even updated its logo.
“This work at MCC in 2020 has come about as a result of a lot of focused prayer and continued financial contributions by MCC supporters,” Jones said. “Our staff and faculty continue to pray that we are aligning our efforts with where the Holy Spirit is already moving. It is clear that this was happening . . . because the plan to move to a focus on disciple-making and asynchronous online learning was made before we had any inkling that COVID-19 would overwhelm many of our institutions in North America.
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.