Interview: President of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Out of the 900 self-defined "religiously affiliated" colleges and universities, only 100 are qualified for membership in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).

Most of these CCCU-member schools have undergone massive enrollment increases in recent years.

In the following interview, the president of CCCU, Dr. Robert C. Andringa, shares an insider's view of what issues these fast-growing schools face today:

What kinds of trends have developed in Christian colleges and universities since the CCCU was founded 30 years ago?

A big change came in 1965 when the federal government passed the Higher Education Act, which provided federal student aid based on need to any student who could then attend any accredited college, including all campuses within the Council. This Act has been revised several times, and appropriations have grown tremendously, to the point that all of our campuses receive 10-25 percent of their revenues from this Act. In later years, many states also added student aid programs which, for the most part, have assisted campuses at our institutions.

Over these 30 years, the interest in higher education has increased dramatically among evangelicals. The previous suspicion of higher learning by more fundamentalist groups gave way to strong support for denominational and independent colleges which wanted to be intentional about integrating faith and scholarship.

The Council takes some pride in helping to increase the professionalism of administrators, trustees and faculty who choose to serve in these Christ-centered campuses. We have more than 20 conferences and workshops each year, with a very complete web site, that adds up to significant sharing of best practices and networking among peers.

Other trends were the increasing numbers of women, minorities and adult learners who chose our campuses, resulting in far larger enrollment increases than higher education generally.

Beginning with the late 1960's, when most of higher education gave up on educating the whole student, loosened up on its behavioral standards and dismissed religion as a legitimate factor in educational development, the distinctive nature of our Christian colleges gave them more visibility and credibility among the large evangelical community in the U.S.

What makes a Christian school "Christian?"

Legally, the majority of our campuses are owned by or affiliated with more than 25 different denominations. They have charters whose purpose and mission is to be intentionally Christian in their curriculum and co-curriculum. They choose Christian faculty who can teach and advise students from a Christian perspective.The curriculum includes required religion courses. Student behavioral standards reflect Christian virtues. Research and writing by faculty often reflects Christian history and thought. Missions trips, campus speakers, chapel and Bible study groups all contribute to the missions each has chosen to pursue.

What are some of the major issues/obstacles facing Christian higher educational institutions?

Of the 900 religiously affiliated colleges in the U.S., all accredited and degree granting, many of them are struggling to redefine themselves in a growing pluralistic society. Our schools seem less confused and, in fact, are becoming more convinced that their future relies on their faithfulness to creating a community of learners who love Jesus Christ and see no conflicts in academic excellence and spiritual growth. The CCCU provides a useful catalytic role in strengthening this movement.

Like two-thirds of these 900 private colleges, most of our campuses struggle with the economics of the model of a private, residential, tuition-dependent, traditional age student body, with constant pressure to add new buildings, adopt new technologies, allow students to travel and study abroad, compete for good faculty with better salaries, etc. We are doing a study this summer on comparative financial strengths of our campuses to get a better handle on this issue.

Finally, mostly in the states at this point, there are legal issues relating to the religious nature of the campus and its eligibility for such things as tax-exempt bonds, student aid, the right to hire based on faith and related issues. Thankfully, most court decisions have not seriously threatened the existence of our campuses. But the challenges here seem to be increasing.

What are some of the issues faced by denominationally-affiliated schools? Does denominational affiliation help schools keep their Christian identities? Has denominational identity been fading away?

Most of our denominational campuses are doing fine, although the percentage of students and faculty from the denomination and the annual contributions from the denomination have decreased in most cases. Campuses, like local churches, are reaching out to committed Christians from whatever background. Many of our campuses, for example, have large numbers of Catholic students. By looking at our strong non-denominational campuses, it would be hard to argue that denominational affiliation is an essential factor in keeping an institution true to its Christian foundation. Indeed, the as denominational loyalties seem to be diminishing among the population generally, the appeal of our campuses to a broader sector of society increases.

Any additional comments?

I am convinced that there is a huge and growing market of students of all ages who prefer an institution with clear values, concern for the whole person, committed to excellence in all areas, and honoring to God in all ways. The big question for the next decade or so is whether students can afford what it costs a private college to provide this "brand" of higher learning. I expect creative leaders will find new models of Christian higher education that will meet the challenges of our day.

Dr. Robert C. Andringa was appointed as president of the Council in 1994 after a career in federal and state government, association leadership and consulting. He completed all three degrees at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. - B.A. in Marketing, M.A. in Student Personnel Administration, and Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. Appointed in 2001 by the U.S. Secretary of Education to chair the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, Andringa is also the founder of CEO Dialogues, Inc. He was appointed to the board of directors of the American Council on Education for 2005-2006.

Andringa, who has authored The Nonprofit Board Answer Book, resides in northern Virginia with his wife. They have two grown sons, two grandsons and a granddaughter.