Little Colleges That Could
Ask any high-school senior if colleges are competing for his or her attention, and the answer is simple enough: "Check out my mailbox." Flashy fliers and brilliant brochures—some even come with fancy DVD "tour guides"—arrive almost daily, essentially screaming, "Pick me! Pick me!"
Christian institutions are in on the act, with their own flurry of clever slogans, beautiful pictures, and dazzling graphics. These days, just as important as marketing and defining a niche, schools need to respond to the many challenges that face Christian higher education—such as affordability, elitism, and cultural and missional relevance. Here are five schools that address those challenges in unique ways.
Alaska Christian College
Rae Fancher had been raped and abused as a young girl, so when she first came to Alaska Christian College (ACC) as a freshman, her needs were far more than academic. "There were times I couldn't even be in the same room with a man," she recalled. "I'd start shaking and crying."
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Fancher found hope at the school's counseling center, ultimately "working through that," as she put it, and later defying all odds by making it through boot camp at the U.S. Naval Academy. Today, she is a commissioned United States Naval officer—the first Alaska Native female to hold the position—stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Fancher's story is not unusual. ACC president Keith Hamilton says about half of its male students and roughly 90 percent of its female students have been sexually abused in the past. For many Alaska Native youth, the future, like the long winter nights that surround them, is dark. Only about 67 percent of them complete high school, and of those who enroll in college, only 12 percent survive their first semester.
ACC, located in Soldotna, Alaska, is changing that—one life at a time.
Founded in 2000 by the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, ACC provides its primarily Alaskan student body something they weren't getting elsewhere: biblically based studies, Christian discipleship, and the skills for further education in a Western culture. ACC offers two-year programs in biblical and ministry studies, but also focuses on helping students heal spiritually and emotionally.
Nearly all of the school's 45 students come from rural villages where test scores are 40 percent lower than the national average, so developmental courses are part of the curriculum. Many ACC students have difficulty with written and verbal communication.
"In the village, you'll hear a mix of different languages: two different native dialects, English and Pidgin English," said Hamilton. "These students are living between Western culture and a subsistence rural culture. We offer a transitional opportunity to their next step in higher education."
Just as important as educating the mind is transforming the heart. ACC's New Hope Counseling Center offers free counseling to all students; 80 percent take advantage of the service.
Hamilton said the biggest hurdle for students is "the baggage they carry from their past." According to the American Psychological Association, American Indians and Alaska Natives experience far greater psychological distress than the general population, putting them at greater risk for some mental disorders. Alcoholism and sexual abuse have historically been cyclical, generational problems. Among those ages 12 and older, Alaska has the highest percentage of illegal drug use in the United States (13.5 percent).