In my previous post, I reviewed four categories of threats to our biblical higher education institutions and educational values: commodification, consumerism, conscience, and cost-less Christianity. Although biblical higher education is in many ways an outlier, not a mainstream but a marginal player in the higher education landscape, we are not immune from the implications of the preceding challenges nor the causes and consequences to which they correspond. We must vigorously contend against these threats confronting the kind of education to which we are called. At the same time, I believe that to obsess over these threats while ignoring the many opportunities before us would represent a race down the road to ruin. There are several emerging realities that, in my estimation, constitute opportunities for those biblical higher education institutions that are prepared to adapt.
The upside of diversity
While the ethnic and cultural diversification that has descended upon North America represents some challenges, I believe this new reality represents far more opportunity than challenge. True, changing demographics (both in terms of student ages and ethnic diversity) mean that few, if any, colleges will be able to sustain or exceed historic enrollment levels among traditional student population categories. But this also means that colleges that actively enable demographic bandwidth expansion and embody diversity have enormous growth potential. How diverse is your institutional leadership corps and what is your diversity strategy? How are you developing curricula and delivery systems targeted to non-traditional student population segments?
The upside of church-based leader development
It is apparent that many flourishing churches rely less and less in staffing decisions upon ministerial credentials earned at post-secondary institutions, and more and more on competency demonstrated in the local church or missional context. Rather than reacting to this new ministry staffing pattern by bemoaning the abandonment of theological degree credentials, you can commit to collaboration with churches and ministry leaders to offer accessible, multi-modal, “just in time” education. If you and your leadership team have not yet begun actively observing and talking about competency-based education, you are in danger of missing a huge opportunity. The day when time is the constant in education and achievement is the variable is giving way to a new reality where competency is the constant and time is the variable. Educational currency, moreover, must become more portable via flexible transfer credit policies and credit for all manner of prior learning and demonstrated competencies.
The upside of disruption
To be sure, this is not a business-as-usual season for North American higher education. We work in what the business gurus call a highly disrupted enterprise. But disruption is not all bad news. Here is the good news: the leveling effect of “disruptive innovations” will make it possible for relatively low-resource providers to compete with higher resource institutions in ways heretofore impossible. Those who can skillfully innovate and differentiate will reap a disproportionate harvest in the coming decades. It doesn’t require an enormous amount of capital in order to innovate and compete. It simply requires judicious and selective capital investment that makes sense in terms of your institution’s distinctive “hedgehog concept” (i.e., What are you passionate about, what can you be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine?).
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
Why must we seek the respect of those who scorn our Lord? Allen Guelzo’s jeremiad against the inexorable quest for “respectability” among Christian scholars and educators should convict us of the folly of such pursuits.
Here’s a thoughtful assessment of two alternative ways Christians can respond to the culture wars. The divergent paths are dubbed by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner as the “Benedict Option” and the “Wilberforce Option.” They argue for the latter. I also appreciated the links Christianity Today provided to critical commentary on the article from Rod Dreher and Gabriel Salguero on the article. In yet another thoughtful critique, Rob Schwarzwalder cautions against a “straw man” perspective.