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Re-'Placing' the Christian College

Re-'Placing' the Christian College

Why faith-based schools must root their mission in their own community.

Warner Pacific College has served students in southeast Portland for 71 years. During this time, our commitment to deliver an excellent Christian liberal-arts education has never wavered. But there have been moments when the challenge of limited space in our urban setting and the need to grow enrollment led to talks about leaving the city and moving to a suburban or rural location. Only recently has it become clear as to why God placed us in the heart of the city.

In the past 20 years, many Christian higher education institutions experienced dramatic growth. Yet during this period, Warner Pacific experienced a series of financial setbacks that led to a clouded future. Warner Pacific, affiliated with the Church of God denomination, has always had smart and passionate staff and faculty, and its unique approach to liberal arts education has always been deep and intentional. But growth comes out of coherence, and Warner Pacific's institutional identity was disconnected from God's strategic placement of the institution in the heart of the city. Higher education institutions, even Christian ones, are too often focused on comparing ourselves with each other. As a result, we fail to live, with authenticity, into the calling that God has for each of us in our particular context.

When I arrived at Warner Pacific six years ago as the vice president for institutional advancement, I was struck by the power of this comparison game in the life of the institution. Early on, as I was learning the ethos and environment, I constantly heard "we're like" and "we're not like." We didn't really know who we were or who we should be. This was a huge liability as the institution worked to grow enrollment and raise funds to support programs—both assignments of which were mine. Our mission statement said that "Warner Pacific College is an urban Christian liberal arts college," but the word urban reflected the street address rather than our educational philosophy. We missed the fact that to be educating future leaders in the city meant that our daily reality and institutional identity were inextricably linked to the life and environs of our location in Portland.


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Displaying 1–5 of 9 comments


November 21, 2011  2:48pm

I have a bias against the Christian colleges that have the biggest names in my area. They are all white. They are tremendously expensive and are in the 'pretty suburbs'. No way are my kids going there. First off, we make too much money to afford any aid. Secondly, my kids will probably live in cities where their neighbors will not be affluent whites and they have to learn what it means to be a Christian where God has placed them. Way to go WPC. Thanks for being an example of what it means to have Christ in the city.

online Bible college

November 18, 2011  8:09am

Online colleges are great when people are tight for finances. When people are tight in finances, it usually means that they are working odd hours in order to save money. So they are also tight on time and need a flexible class in order to get the degree to apply for a better job in a field they would enjoy better. Online schools also are cheaper in the sense that you wouldn't need to drive to the class nor would you be spending money on being on campus in a dorm room. There are many benefits to going to college online

Barbara Denton

November 17, 2011  9:48pm

Living out the Gospel is infused throughout Warner Pacific's curriculum and expectations of all students, faculty, and staff. That they have chosen to show love to the poor and disinfranchised of the city of Portland is to be lauded. It will be exciting to see how the Act 6 students impact the city as they begin graduating in 2013. WP, we are praying for you.

Cathy Peterson

November 17, 2011  4:48pm

It is exciting to see the changes taking place at Warner Pacific College. It is true that enrollment is up--and what a blessing that is to students who have been disenfranchised or underserved. I found the article to be inspiring, particularly the second to last paragraph. I look forward to shaing this article with neighbors, friends, family members and others I bump into in my life. Way to go Warner for embracing the opportunities to serve SE Portland and beyond.

Megan Bryant

November 16, 2011  5:12pm

I think this was fabulously written. I am a huge supporter of urban, Christian, liberal-arts colleges, being a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, IL. How many Christian, liberal-arts colleges are actually located within our nation’s city limits? There are not many. I love how Andrea Cook doesn’t try to cover up the past but she is honest about where Warner Pacific is coming from and where they intend to go. She has been a wonderful addition to the school, making huge impacts in her six years there. I think she is expressing the need to be the “Gospel witness” in Portland through action. The school is not only saying they are a Christian college but they are learning to walk out what that means. Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do; to walk out our faith in good deeds? Portland State University is a good school but for someone that is looking for smaller class sizes with a professor who knows their name, wouldn’t Warner be such a better choice? Warner Pacific offers an atmosphere of learning that a school like PSU could never offer. Also, Andrea did not ever say the school is not about “developing a life of the mind”. Of course they are about developing the mind. In her conclusion, Andrea lists the many ways the mind will be engaged with an emphasis on their location. My experience at North Park had a lot to do with my surroundings. Chicago and all that the city had to offer helped me to develop my mind in more ways than just sitting in the classroom. I think it is exciting that Warner is coming into their urban identity and wanting to make a difference in Portland.


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