The question whether the Christian college can survive under the stringent pressures of the decades ahead is deeply troubling to many friends of these colleges and to leaders in the Church. But some are asking an even more ominous question: whether the Christian colleges should survive, or whether the educational function of the Church could be better achieved within the public institution. This second question is being asked, not belligerently by those opposed to Christian colleges, but quietly and thoughtfully by some dedicated supporters of the Church and its educational program.
Before dealing with the first question, which is the main subject of this essay, testimony must be given on the second. While the educational objectives of the Church can and must penetrate into the secular and public institutions of higher education, there is nevertheless a supreme need for church-related institutions, in which the Christian religion may be taught and evangelical truth presented without inhibition or limitation. Here all truth can be integrated with the religious conviction of the Church. In such colleges, the Gospel can be presented and the relation of the biblical revelation to the whole of life can be taught. The faculty can be Christian in both conviction and profession. Young people can be encouraged to find their intellectual and spiritual maturity in Christ. And, finally, in the Christian college the Church can give its supreme testimony that its convictions are an integral part of the expanding knowledge of the universe. The Christian college and the church-related college must survive for the sake of youth, for the sake of the Church, and for the sake of society.
Not only Christian colleges but also the other independent colleges, with the exception of those that are very highly endowed, are today being threatened by external developments over which they have no control. These are, briefly, the galloping inflation of costs, the rise of the community college, the gigantic intervention of the federal government into higher education, and the paucity of qualified faculty.
Some of these factors are more critical for the Christian colleges than for the others, and the last—the paucity of qualified faculty—is one. An essential element of a Christian college is the religious dedication of faculty members, who must also be fully qualified academically. Not that the professor of physics, for example, should intersperse his lectures with theological homilies or that street evangelism must be his avocation; but he should have a profound faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. If he has this, he need not preach in class or in the streets. His faith will shine through his teaching and convey itself to the students. It is difficult to see how a college can be effectively Christian without a faculty composed of such persons.
However, personal Christian commitment is not enough. Added to this should be high intellectual attainment, evidenced by the earned doctorate and by continuing scholarship. Naturally, professors who have both intellectual attainment and Christian dedication are far fewer than those who have only one or the other. But it is striking and significant that professors having both these qualities are sought after by the great secular universities and employed at salaries far exceeding those that can be paid in the Christian colleges. The secular universities seek them out, because scholars with Christian commitment are often outstanding in teaching and in scholarship and research, and, further, because these universities desire the influence of such men within the philosophical hodge-podge of which their faculties are necessarily constituted. Recruiting such men is made easier for the universities by the conviction of some of these scholars that their evangelical testimony is more needed in the secular institutions than in the Christian colleges.
The result is that the scholar who is both dedicated to Christ and academically superior is often not available to the smaller colleges. And the Christian colleges are then caught between the upper and nether millstones. They are tempted to use dedicated Christians who are deficient in academic attainment or first-rate scholars who are non-evangelical or sometimes non-Christian. They often compromise by accepting both. The result is a blunting of the Christian witness of the colleges and a deterioration in teaching effectiveness.
In a decade or so, every sizable community will have a tax-supported college. Contrary to present claims, these will be four-year colleges. Those now functioning are already paying better salaries than the Christian colleges. These community colleges will have finer buildings and facilities, probably better faculties, and lower tuition, or none at all. Paradoxically, they may, despite their secular character, be indirectly responsible for a strengthening of Christian faith among many of their students, who, since they will continue to live at home, will not be uprooted from their churches.
The Christian college will soon be confronted with this competition not only in its own locale but also in the towns from which its resident students might come. Unless it is markedly superior in both its academic and its religious program, it may lose out.
Faculty salaries will play a much larger part in this situation than they have in the past, or than the colleges are willing to admit. The average faculty salary in the Christian and church-related colleges is about half that of the salaries in the greatest secular universities. There may have been a time when fully qualified and dedicated Christian professors preferred to serve in the smaller college. This was a time, however, when there existed a buyer’s market in college teaching, when the salary difference between the small college and the great university was not so large, when relatively more fully qualified teachers were available for both types of institutions, and when evangelical professors were less sensitive to the call of Christian mission in the universities than many now are. Whatever the reason, the day is past when an appreciable number of committed Christian instructors who were also first-class scholars could afford to choose the small college at half-salary. These men now have families to educate. While salary rates are not everything, they cannot longer be disregarded in the search for the kind of faculty essential to the Christian college. Unless the financial element is honestly faced, there is no way out of the problem.
Now, it is at this point of financial crisis that the professing Christian colleges, along with most of the other independent colleges, are making a monumental error. They are clinging to the old tradition that they can survive by begging help from the public, the churches, the alumni, or the government to finance their budget deficits. Moreover, they are making the equally grave mistake of disregarding the tremendous resources that are wasted in their traditional curricula, organizations, and calendars. There is more financial relief available to most colleges in restructuring their curricula and organization than in begging for help. Because they are not using all their resources and are maintaining conventional programs, the Christian colleges are moving toward such enormous annual operating deficits that the giving of churches, alumni, friends, and even the government will be inadequate. That is to say, the possibility that giving from all sources will be adequate to future operating deficits is most remote.
The givers will not make up these deficits because the idea is abroad—and it is absolutely correct—that in this new day the colleges can and should be self-supporting in their operations. Alumni, public, foundations, and ultimately denominational boards will reserve their giving for capital purposes, or for measures that mean academic, spiritual, or physical improvement. Rat-hole giving to make up deficits is on its way out. Even the government with its extensive grants makes no pretense of supporting operating deficits. Indeed, its contributions are very largely for buildings, the maintenance of which only adds to operating deficits. And when the tax-supported community colleges number in the thousands and tens of thousands, the political pressures of Congress and of most politicians will be more and more toward help for these public institutions. Any support now offered to the professing Christian college may be declared illegal, just as it would be for the churches of which these colleges are the educational extensions. Furthermore, for a college committed to a Christian testimony, it is quite as wrong to use the forced tax-support of non-Christians for proclamation of the Gospel as it would be for a church to do so.
There is a brighter side of the situation. The Christian and the small independent colleges can survive, even against the great odds that are coming up. But they cannot do so by constantly increasing their annual operating deficits, by spending their money for the maintenance of outmoded traditions, by sustaining curricula that are proliferated beyond all reason in futile imitation of the large universities, by employing at half-salaries twice as many teachers as are needed, by pursuing development programs which will bankrupt them with added maintenance costs, by borrowing amounts that in many colleges already exceed the total negotiable assets, and by continuing to engage in deficit spending, deficit thinking, and overbuilding.
The restructuring of a college for operational self-support and for academic superiority is very difficult. Yet it can be done, if administrators are willing to bring expense down to income, limit curricula to fundamentals, reduce the size of the faculty and administration and pay adequate salaries for fully qualified people, measurably improve the deteriorating quality of teaching and academic standards, relieve the supporting public of the burden of perennial deficits and thus release them to greater capital giving, work for the greatest possible use of the buildings, and construct needed new buildings only when they have the funds to do so. Studies in Higher Education, a non-profit enterprise dedicated to the survival of the Christian and the independent college, is presently engaged in showing trustees and administrators of such colleges how these things may be done.
Impartial educational statesmen have from time to time predicted that the Christian college will die, either by becoming a tax-supported community college without a Christian testimony, or by being replaced by the community college. But this need not happen!
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