The Problems of Marketing Today's Christian College
"The only reason a girl would go to a Christian College is to get a preacher for a husband."
"None of my children felt called to the full-time ministry at this point in their lives."
"I never considered coming because it was a Christian College, not a real college."
Have you heard any of these before? Have you thought them yourself? You aren't alone.
These expressed views, and many more like them, are quite typical of the resistance Christian College admissions staffs meet every day. Most Christian youth and their parents have little knowledge of what our Christian colleges are all about. The misunderstandings, reservations, and prejudices of many high school guidance counselors further complicate the already tough job of recruitment.
Christian College Does Not Mean Inferior Education
Quite the opposite, actually. With the declining "student pool" and many vocationally-oriented youth looking for a secure place in society and the job market, colleges which were solely oriented to full-time ministry graduates have expanded and branched out.
Many Christian Colleges have changed their names and dropped the "Bible" and incorporated "Christian" into their name. For example, Great Lakes Christian College.
"Not a real college"
To many people the term, "Christian college" means something inferior to what secular society means by college or university. Do they think our students march in lines around campus singing, "Boys and Girls for Jesus?"
Some people think we are a sort of hybrid between glorified Sunday school and church camp. Others envision us as an appendage to the back of a church somewhere. We can not be taken seriously as educational institutions by prospective students or by parents who are facing an investment in their loved one's future, if they retain these uninformed perceptions.
Christian Colleges are Legitimate Post-Secondary Schools
Christian colleges have professors with master degrees or doctorates. Classroom demands and grading standards are at least as stringent as those of the typical university, and usually tougher than the local community college.
To large numbers of others, the appellation "Christian College" implies that the school not only specialized in, but is limited to, full-time Christian ministries in its vocational offerings. This used to be true. But nowadays with cooperative programs, online classes, and regional accreditation, it is no longer the case.
Nonetheless, the old public perception persists. As one northwestern Ohio high school Sunday-school teacher wrote, "We didn't consider GLCC for our daughter entering college in the fall as a freshman because Bible Colleges are only for preacher training."
Today's Christian College is caught in a brother hood tension. On one side is a vocal minority of sincere and legitimately-concerned people who remember "the liberal takeover" of many of our colleges a couple of generations ago. They are asking whether additional courses and programs, regional accreditation, and name changes might not bet the typical first steps in giving up our Biblical emphasis, losing our ministry training emphasis, and perhaps even surrendering our conservative faith.
On the other side is a rather silent majority who would like to see our colleges educate more than just candidates for ministry. Their expressed preference is that our school offer various other vocational options in a Christian environment for all Christian young people.
While the first group includes many benefactors to Christian colleges, the fact of the matter is that the second group, which looks for expanded offerings and widely acceptable degrees, are the main source of student recruitment and retention.
Christian students studying for secular jobs on a Christian College campus actually subsidize the ministerial programs. Without them, most of our schools would have to close.
"God, give us preachers" was a slogan established at Great Lakes Bible College in 1973 by past-president John Hasty as a theme for the upcoming year. The theme became a popular one, for it reflected the daily prayer of those working here. The slogan began to appear on many of the school's promotional materials and soon was regarded by outsiders as the college's motto." But its popularity also somewhat backfired on us.
For many young people in our congregations it came to imply that the Bible college was interested in or prepared to accommodate them only if they were going to be preachers.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the goal of training preachers, youth ministers, and missionaries. These are our priorities. But what options are there for other dedicated young people who seek a Christian education but plan for a "secular" career?
It has been our experience that most of our students do not enroll with the intention of becoming preachers or pastors. Many are looking for a safe, Christian environment in which to attend college. Some of our students know they want to serve the Lord somehow, but most don't know specifically what that is.
On the other hand, many prospective preachers never arrive at Christian college because they fear a "blind alley" or "one-way street" education which could leave them at a vocational "ground-zero" should they at some point change their mind that pulpit ministry or the mission field is not for them. The only way to alleviate this fear of occupational risk is to provide some legitimate vocational alternatives.
Another enormous benefit of offering many types of degrees and vocations is that it appeals to more female students. Women also want to attend college in a safe Christian environment. Gone are the days of Bible Colleges for preachers and women looking to be preachers' wives.
Christian Colleges offer a robust variety of courses and degrees. After all, don't we need Christian journalists, public school teachers, doctors, business men and women, counselors, musicians, and more? Yes, we do. We also need church leaders and workers. We provide affordable, accredited, education for both men and women in many areas and industries.
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If you like the idea of a smaller more affordable college experience, don't overlook Christian colleges. They have a lot more to offer than you might realize.
Would you like to get a question answered? Text this number with your question and one of our admission counselors will be glad to respond, 517-292-4522.
This article was updated from it's original publication in the Christian Standard , Feb 16, 1992 by Lloyd Knowles.