The Need for Adult & Distance Education in Christian Higher Education

While there are many bright spots for higher learning institutions, looming failure is also a concern for colleges and universities. They see failure in the success of sports teams, educating their students, program failure, and ultimately institutional failure. Often finances are an underlying cause for failure within higher education. There are regular reports showing the failure of colleges financially (see Blumenstyk, 2009 and others). When an institution begins to fail financially, innovation becomes a means of recovery for the institution.


Early in the 1980s, a failing central Indiana university chose to implement adult programming. Today this once-near-bankrupt institution has boasted cash payments for education centers around Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio with a rejuvenation of its central campus. Further, this institution went from a debt-ridden status to millions in surplus each year.


Another innovative Bible college in central Ohio, under a new president, began a concerted effort to add more programming for adults and online programming to reach out to new populations. To date, this institution has seen steady growth, updated facilities, increased programming and services, new cash-based construction, and a budget surplus in the millions each year.


While efforts in the adult and distance education are not the only methods of innovation being used to stem losses within higher education institutions, when properly implemented with the necessary resolve they have shown strong results for the institution. However, many Christian higher education institutions miss the opportunities available in the adult and online markets (Naugle, 1995).


Reasons to Establish Adult & Distance Education Programming


Choosing to implement adult and distance education programming is not a decision to be made lightly. Instead, the decision must be made with resolve, based on study of the market and institution, and supported thoroughly by the top administrator. Considering the need or rationale for implementing these programs is an important starting point.


Financial. There are a multitude of reasons for institutions to implement adult and distance programs. While an investment will be required, a stronger financial position is an outcome for implementing an adult and distance program. Decision-making is much easier for institutions with resources and capital to support programming.


Decreasing Traditional Population. Many institutions have been focused only on the traditionally aged college student in the 18 – 24 age bracket. However, the rate of growth in this sector is decreasing (Shugart, 2008). As a result, additional populations must be targeted to increase enrollment.


Workforce Shortages. Shugart (2008) also noted the demand for retraining and increased training as a result of the retiring baby boomers. He postulates that this demand will create additional need for education for adults.


Mission and the Great Commission. However, there are needs for adult and distance programming at Christian and Bible colleges and universities that goes well beyond the financial position of the institution. So very often, men and women serve in Christian higher education for reasons hardly related to money. Instead, they serve because of a mission to educate learners, to shape them for eternity, prepare them for service, and measure success by the influence of their students. From a Christian perspective, these avenues of student influence are only reached by a few institutions. Adult and distance programming provides new avenues to accomplish the Great Commission. Using an adult and distance format, Christian institutions can offer a service that individuals need and is universally accepted using a Biblically-based curriculum. That allows them to accomplish a university (and Christian) mission while supporting and strengthening the school financially.


Influencing the Population. The Condition of Education report for 2010 produced by the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] shows several interesting trends.


  • Degree Areas. Business tops undergraduate programming and is a close second at the master’s level.



  • Degrees Conferred. Across the board, private, for-profit institutions are seeing the greatest percentage increases (minimally 127% increase ranging up to 804% increase) over the 1997-1998.


For the Bible college, these programs may be outside the normal operating space. However, an entrepreneurial Bible college may see the opportunity to offer corollary programs that target these same areas with a focus in ministry. For example, Ohio Christian University, a Bible college outside of Columbus, OH, offers a Disaster Management program and a Leadership and Ministry program that appeal to the traditional Bible college student and other learners from the business sector that are interested in ministry in their marketplace. Creativity is the key to finding ministry programs to reach people.


When Christian institutions fail to enter the market of adult and distance education, they also fail to reach learners and influence them. Naugle (1995) stresses the importance of this influence on adult students due to their current impact on the nation in social, economic, and culture. These trends (NCES, 2010) show that an institution can reach learners in these areas with a Christian-based program in popular areas. The market share increases seen by for-profit institutions are as a result of other institutions not providing the programs. Less market share means less influence.


When developing programs, an institution can choose to offer programs to:


  • Train up Christian ministers to a specific field (business, education, lay ministry or clergy, etc.)

  • Reach out to non-Christian learners with a faith-based message using the tool of education to deliver that message

  • Do both of the above.

As a result, the level of influence an institution has can maintain a particular missional focus to develop leaders for specific programs requiring Christian faith as a basis for entry. As an example, an institution for training ministers of Christianity very well may want to allow only Christians preparing for training rather than opening the doors to individuals of other faiths (cults, etc.) that would tend to distort the information gathered. Yet for programs that are not specifically designed to train Christian leaders, institutions may be able to use the power of education to reach individuals with the salvation message as part of the normal education process in programs that have open enrollment.


Each of the above reflects a need for Christian higher education institutions to enter the adult and distance education arena. Meeting the need that is most applicable to the institution provides focus for the administration, staff, and faculty.


References


Blumenstyk, G. (2009). More than 100 colleges fail education department’s test of financial strength. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://cpe.ky.gov/nr/rdonlyres/7291bfc8-404a-48e0-8370-e644c1e29572/0/morethan100collegesfaileducationdepartmentstestoffinancialstrength.pdf


National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Section 5: Contexts of postsecondary education. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010028_6.pdf


Naugle, D. (1995). The Christian college and adult education. Faculty Dialogue, 24. Retrieved from http://www.iclnet.org/pub/facdialogue/24/naugle24


Shugart, S. (2008). Adult students: A priority revisited. Presidency, 11(1), 18-22. Retrieved from ERIC database.

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