Chris Gehrz on The Crisis of Chistian Colleges
Date: November 3rd, 2013

Tuition is rising. Federal funding is becoming more sparse. And Christian college alumni and their affiliated denominations are not giving as much money to religious universities as they have in the past.  In such an increasingly difficult fiscal environment, what is the future of Christian higher education?  Will student enrollments decline because of the higher price?  Will faculty need to be laid off?  Will stalwart educational institutions in the community need to shutter their doors?  Working from an “open letter to American church” that was penned on The Pietist Schoolman blog, we address all of these issues and more with Prof. Chris Gehrz, chair of the Department of History at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN.  This interview provides another, perhaps more pessimistic, view of Christian higher education that both compliments and contrasts our previous interviews with Joseph Castleberry and Hunter Baker (see below).

After a bit of brief banter about the depressing state of Minnesota football, we begin our academic discussion with a brief look at “pietism,” as Prof. Gehrz’s blog is called The Pietist Schoolman and it would be relevant to understand the intellectual and theological perspective from which his views emanate.  After a brief desciption of that religious movement and his interest in it, we then plunge headlong into the crisis of Christian higher education.  Chris dates this crisis back to the 1980s when Christian college enrollments began to drop, only recovering in the recent decade.  He also brings up a recent report by Forbes magazine that rated a substantial portion of CCCU schools with grades of C or D for fiscal health.  We discuss both the reason for this drop in enrollments and the reason why many Christian schools have found themselves in such difficult financial straits.

Given that the fiscal health of private universities tends to be driven more by directly-paid tuition than at public institutions, we then look at why the cost of college has been rising so dramatically in recent decades.  The reasons are many and include competitive faculty salaries, a race to provide the best student ammenities, expansing administrative expenses, and the construction boom of college buildings.  Chris then notes that despite the rising costs of providing a college education, the sources of funding outside of student tuition have been dwindling, including donations from alumni and contributions from a Christian school’s affiliated denomination.

Our discussion closes with some possible solutions to this fiscal crisis facing Christian universities.  Some of the solutions do not appear all that promising, including the laying off of faculty, the turn to part-time (or adjunct) faculty, and the likelihood that many Christian schools will have to close their doors.  We note how this can be dislocating for students and how the turn to  non-traditional faculty positions may affect pedagogical quality.  As with our previous interviews on this topic, we also explore the pros and cons of harnessing online technology to change the way students learn and possibly mitigage the fiscal pressure many private schools are facing.  Chris makes a strong case for why there still is an important role for Christian schools in our educational landscape.  Not only does it provide a niche that is not typically fulfilled by public colleges and universities, but Christian higher education helps to fulfill the mission of The Christian Church by being an important intellectual component to making Christianity survive and grow.  Recorded: October 22, 2013.


Prof. Chris Gehrz’s bio at The Pietist Schoolman.

An Open Letter to American Churches: The Crisis of Christian Higher Education.”  The letter that started it all by Chris Gehrz at The Pietist Schoolman.

Postscript to My Open Letter on Christian Higher Education,” by Chris Gehrz.

The Pietist Impulse in Christianity (Princeton Theological Monagraphs), by Christian T. Collins Winn, Christopher Gehrz, G. William Carlson, and Eric Holst.

History Department at Bethel University.

Why Does College Tuition Cost So Much?” by Robert Archibald and David Feldman at Inside Higher Ed.


Joseph Castleberry on Religious-Based Higher Education.

Hunter Baker on the Future of Higher Education.

Jason Jewell on Why Christians Should Read the Great Books.

One Response to “Chris Gehrz on The Crisis of Chistian Colleges”

  1. […] on the crisis in Christian higher education, I discuss the topic as the featured guest on the current episode of the podcast Research on Religion, hosted by political scientist Tony Gill (Univ. of Washington) […]

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