Joseph Castleberry on Religious-Based Higher Education
Date: July 7th, 2013

What is it like to operate a religiously-based institution of higher education in what is a seemingly secularized world of academics?  How does a small college become a university and expand its enrollment?  And what are the challenges these schools face in recruiting faculty?  These and many more questions are answered by Dr. Joseph Castleberry, president of Northwest University (NU) located in Kirkland, WA just outside of Seattle.  Dr. Castleberry took over the reins of NU shortly after it moved from being Northwest College to Northwest University.

Our conversation begins with a description of Northwest, including its history (starting as a Bible college in downtown Seattle 75 years ago) and current enrollment.  Joe talks about the recent transition from “college” to “university” and explains the rationale behind that decision.  He notes how NU is expanding into a number of branch campuses in Salem (OR) and Sacramento (CA), which are physical “brick and mortar” locations, and extensions in Nampa (ID).   Northwest is also developing online degree programs for continuing adult education, as well.  The purpose of these expansions is to go where the demand for higher education is, particularly with respect to ministerial training, which he says must be “close to the ground.” We also discuss how NU recruits students and while Dr. Castleberry reveals that most students come from Washington State, efforts to recruit abroad (both in the US and globally) often rely upon personal missionary networks, particulary via the Assemblies of God.

Our conversation then turns to Dr. Castleberry’s personal biography, taking him from Princeton Theological Seminary to a missionary and professor in El Salvador.  He reflects upon what he learned in that experience that has been helpful for him as a university administrator.  The key take-away from that time abroad was the importance of building networks and we chat about how this is helpful for recruiting students.

The next portion of the interview examines student life including how NU goes about finding students to attend their school and what they go through when they get to campus. Most of the traditional undergraduate live on campus and are required to attend a certain number of chapel services.  We also talk about whether these students are insulated from the more secular world and Joe points out that NU students actually have a very visible presence in the community around them, through missionary work and via “normal life.”  The faculty-student ratio also becomes a focus of our conversation, and Dr. Castleberry lays out the benefits of being at a smaller university and proudly recounts a number of significant achievements that NU students have earned over the years, including beating Harvard students in debate competitions.

We also discuss the role of the faculty at the university, including how to recruit faculty members who are willing to sign a statement of faith and what emphasis NU places on teaching relative to research.  Joe points out that their general philosophy is not “publish or perish,” but rather “publish to flourish.”  We conclude with a discussion of some changes taking place in higher education writ large, which includes the increasing prominence of online education and other forms of distance learning.  Dr. Castleberry lays out his university’s strategy to expand in this area.  Recorded: June 17, 2013.


Dr. Joseph Castleberry’s bio at Northwest University.

Northwest University.

Dr. Castleberry’s blog in English and Spanish.

The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus, by Joseph Castleberry.

Your Deepest Dream, by Joseph Castleberry.


Rick Walston on Distance Learning & Seminary Education.

Kimberly Conger on Being Christian in Secular Academia.




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