Christian colleges may lose students and face a fight for survival if they do not embrace the technological challenges of the twenty-first century, leaders from Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) institutions predict.

"If Christian students can pick up a quarter of their courses from the Internet, then Christian colleges are going to lose students," says Mike Zastrocky, a member of the Council on Technology committee of the CCCU, an association of 91 schools.

At an October conference at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, on the future of Christian higher education, CCCU vice president Karen Longman stressed the importance of Christian schools "tapping the best of technology for the kingdom" by using distance learning. "If we don't get moving, then someone else will." Currently, 40 percent of CCCU schools have plans to produce distance-learning courses for students in the current academic year.

READY-MADE MARKET: The demand for distance-education courses on the Internet can be huge. Zastrocky notes that a consortium of community colleges in Phoenix offered 25 courses over the Internet for the first time this fall, and beginning enrollment totaled 2,500.

The number of distance-education courses at the undergraduate level is increasing rapidly. A survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that by next fall, 90 percent of all educational institutions with enrollments of 10,000 or more students expect to be offering distance-education courses. More than 750,000 students were enrolled in distance-education courses in 1994-95. The majority of these students—55 percent—attended public community colleges. There are currently almost 10,000 college-level courses offered on the Internet.

LEFT BEHIND?: CCCU member colleges are not ready to meet the demand for distance education, as only 22 percent of these schools have a distance-education program according to a survey by consultant Galen Hiestand for CCCU.

"Web-based courses are going to be mainstream in the future," Zastrocky says. "Many Christian colleges do not understand that their ability to survive in the twenty-first century depends on the new technologies."

Christian colleges often lack the technological support and skills necessary to put Internet-based courses together. Zastrocky believes there is such a demand for experts in the field of Internet education that Christian colleges may not be able to afford to hire them.

Bob Hodge, chair of the CCCU technology council, told ct that many colleges use commercial companies that charge $400-$600 an hour to provide technological support, compared to $40-$60 an hour when technological support is provided by college staff. "People need to be trained to go far beyond spreadsheets," Hodge says.

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Faculty also need to be made aware of what new technologies can offer. "Discussions with college presidents, technologists, and librarians identified the greatest need Christian colleges have is faculty development strategies to familiarize faculty with what the new technologies offer for research and scholarship," Hodge says.

EXPENSIVE START-UP COSTS: Most distance education requires heavy capital investment in the initial phases.

Experts at a September CCCU distance-learning consultation in Chicago reported that three media are often involved in a distance-learning course. The use of interactive television via satellite transmission allows a traditional classroom setting to be maintained. The methods of electronic mail and the World Wide Web for instruction and interaction provide for low-cost exchange of text. Sometimes all three media are used in conjunction with a single course.

Zastrocky estimates that it can take $10,000 to $100,000 to develop an Internet course, depending on the subject.

Despite the expenses, small schools are not necessarily at a disadvantage. "Smaller institutions can change and do things very quickly," Zastrocky says. "Large institutions can't change as fast."

SHARING THE EXPENSES: Many overhead costs on research, marketing, and development of distance-learning courses can be minimized by collaboration among Christian colleges, according to CCCU President Robert C. Andringa. He says the CCCU already is working on the creation of a subsidiary nonprofit organization for distance learning.

One of the major stumbling blocks to implementing distance education in Christian colleges is the belief that Christian community cannot be created as effectively in a distance-education course as on a college campus. "We've bought into a relational, community-based student-professor relationship," Andringa says. "Now we have to get over some defensiveness and anxiety."

Hodge agrees that such a belief will be difficult to overcome. "Many Christians today deny that Christian community can be established apart from physical presence or a face-to-face relationship," Hodge says.

But technology does not always hamper personal relationships, says communication professor Wesley Baker of Cedarville (Ohio) College. "Often people do not realize that community can be formed on the Internet by means of e-mail and Web-conferencing." Some students may find that Internet-based communication is better suited to their personalities.

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The potential to expand the mission of Christian colleges by distance learning is tremendous, according to Hodge. There are 160,000 students on CCCU campuses and one million Christian students enrolled in non-Christian colleges.

Other markets identified at the CCCU consultation on distance learning include adult education, missionary support, pastoral training, evangelical nonprofit organizations looking for leadership management, and the professional development market that involves nurses, doctors, and schoolteachers taking courses in their fields. If used intelligently and with care, Hodge says cyberspace can expand Christian education to those who would not consider it otherwise. For additional information, see the Web site Christian Distance Learning Directory on the Internet (

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