While speaking at a large conference in Nashville on a new book series for the Museum of the Bible, I kept noticing large crowds at a booth across the expansive room. The program said it was “The FlyLady,” so I thought she was a superhero figure. Later, while they were closing the room, I slipped over to meet a rather amazing woman. And for over a half-million social media followers, she indeed was and is their hero.
Instead of a throne and a fancy autograph table, she was sitting behind her booth surrounded by mops, brooms, and an assortment of housecleaning props. Within minutes, I was in a memorable discussion with Marla Cilley, the real person behind the book Body Clutter. In that book is an idea that I think of daily—clean your sink before going to bed. It works! No matter how busy my wife and I are, that one simple act makes us feel like we are ahead of our hectic schedules.
In many ways, we all need strategies to juggle hectic days and months, especially in the bizarre onslaught of pandemic changes during COVID culture. Adding the financial pressures to the picture seems to frame impossible dreams for many, like finishing a college degree. I know this story all too well coming from an impoverished family background. Scholarships and aid were the only way I could attend college and graduate school.
One of those programs is still helping thousands of students to do the same and is picking up steam—church partnerships. For many “non-traditional” students, it is the difference between the degree and daily routines that appear perpetually overwhelming.
An increasing number of churches in the U.S. are starting a new trend in education: collaborating with a university to provide local education opportunities.
These educational partnerships enhance experiences for both the sending and the sent, allowing students to earn affordable and contextual degrees without travel barriers. In turn, this also benefits the sending congregations beyond programs’ inherent goodness.
Studies from various colleges have tracked measured benefits worth noting here, with a huge impact on the health of congregations as well. For example, its members who avoid college exhibit more extensive patterns of religious decline. Those with bachelor’s degrees had significantly lower levels of unemployment in the 2008-09 recession—a tangible incentive. For example, the lifetime value of a bachelor’s degree is $1 million more than a high school diploma. Also, graduates have lower levels of mortality and substance abuse rates.
My hope, and I assume that of other Christian colleges, is that the above results are even more positive among our Indiana Wesleyan University alumni. So, like cleaning our sinks, what are some practical steps? For starters, churches need to ask the right questions in order to take advantage of the full spectrum of benefits.
What academic programs are available in the partnership format?
Some universities will focus on online and remote ministry education, while others will offer an assortment of marketplace degrees in areas of study like business, criminal justice, human services, counseling, psychology, education, computer technology, and more.
Will students be able to earn credit for work experience?
The academic world recognizes the value of “experiential learning.” Many of these for-credit opportunities can serve both the church and students in the forms of internships, practicums and labs. For example, an accounting major could serve in the church business office and apply knowledge from the classroom.
How affordable is it?
Most university partners have significantly reduced their tuition to around $7,000 annually. Compared to the national average of public and private tuition between $20,000 and $40,000 annually, this price point is a real bargain. Universities also charge a fee on behalf of the church. One major distinction among universities is that some allow the church to set the “site fee” to any reasonable value, where others have established numbers. In total, the ideal situation is a student paying no more than $10,000 annually.
Is the institution accredited?
Not all accreditors are the same. Both national and regional accreditors grant institutions access to federal financial aid, such as the Pell Grant and the federal student loan program. The key point is to ensure that any university partner is in good standing with their accreditor.
Is the institution in good financial health?
One expert noted that as much as 20% of private institutions may close soon. The IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search or ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer provide access to recent IRS Form 990 submissions from non-profit organizations. Red flags should be raised if the university has reported negative income, decreasing cash, and an excessive amount of bonds and other liabilities.
Partnering with the right school is critical to the long-term success of the relationship, and there indeed are several viable options. I encourage you to look at several. Full disclosure—I am a bit biased given my long-term relationship with Indiana Wesleyan University, as do others in my family of ten. The strengths of IWU are real, and I’ve seen firsthand the real difference in thousands of students and the enhancement of numerous churches and parachurch ministries.
To partner with a reputable Christian university, consider the Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) Bridge Initiative. IWU is a regionally accredited, financially healthy university with a track record of success in educating adult learners. The University offers an assortment of ministry and marketplace degrees that provide students work experience in the local church.
Recently I was honored to speak to the United Nations in New York City on “protecting religious spaces.” That was on February 14th, 2020. Little did those in the room, including me and the national journalism network I was leading, know the challenges already forming via COVID. We are in a “new normal,” cleaning about everything on site, not just our sinks. I sincerely hope a partnership with one of our country’s strong Christian universities helps you to navigate these times, and is part of your community’s future.