But will it get me a job?
As the baby boom echo reaches its peak in post-secondary education, most experts believe Christian schools, like other colleges and universities, need to broaden their offerings to remain viable and healthy.
For the next decade, the number of 18 to 21-year-old students will decline by about 10 per cent. Historically, this age group has comprised at least half the full-time post-secondary students in Canada.
Fewer students means fewer parents searching for Bible colleges where their young adults can take a year of Bible training before entering further studies or employment. It also means fewer applicants looking to enter a two or four-year program at a Christian college.
So how are Christian post-secondary institutions across the nation preparing for this demographic dip?
Justin Cooper, executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC), sees a range of approaches being taken by CHEC schools. First, there are attempts to better connect with recent high school graduates through social media, and host enticing post-secondary education fairs that emphasize the distinctives of Christian higher education.
Like other colleges and universities, Christian institutions are trying reach out to non-traditional students, whether through campus offerings and distance learning options (online, modular, hybrid). They're also trying to connect with new audiences, specifically aboriginal and immigrant populations in Canada, as well as international students, many of whom have a Christian background.
CHEC schools are also offering new or repackaged programs that are more relevant to students' employment goals. For example, Redeemer University now offers a health sciences program.
Jeff Suderman of Suderman Consulting agrees with this last strategy as a way for Christian post-secondary educators to succeed.
"Promotion is usually the first place Christian colleges put their efforts, but you can't sell what you don't have," says Suderman. "If you don't offer a good product, one that will help them get a job after graduating, advertising more is really a waste of time and money."
"The American Freshman 2012," a recently released survey from the Higher Education Research Institute, confirms that the number one priority for 88 per cent of first-year college students is finding a good job. Suderman says Canadian students—and their parents—feel the same way.
Students see the benefits of connecting a spiritually formative environment with career training. Eleni, a 19 year old from Richmond, BC chose Prairie College of Applied Arts & Technology's licensed practical nursing program because, "I knew I could complete my nursing diploma as well as do Bible; I get the best of both worlds."
This utilitarian approach is a legitimate concern for educators. For Christian institutions seeking to offer spiritually vibrant communities that nurture faith in the context of education, this may feel like "selling out" to the pragmatism of the age and not training the next generation of church leaders.
"With so much emphasis on 'What can I do with that diploma or degree?', Christian post-secondary institutions would be wise to invest in programs that have a path to career options," says Peter Mal, managing director of marketing and technology at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta.
"Even though we have branched out to offer programs in healthcare, digital media and aviation, we recognize that church and para-church ministry also represents a wide range of viable and exciting career opportunities—and our aim is to equip our grads for these roles."
Christian colleges need to respond to the "market trends" while offering programs in the way that makes them unique from other post-secondary institutions. They can still infuse each class with a Christian worldview and provide solid biblical instruction within a faith-nurturing context. While the market may be smaller for a couple decades, the impact and vitality of Christian colleges will continue and thrive.
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