Online Christian Colleges: Online Learning with a Christian Influence
Meet the Experts
Patricia Marshall, M.S.N., R.N., CCRNAssistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate ProgramsVilla Maria School of Nursing Gannon University
C. Michael PerryAdmissions CounselorChristian Brothers University
Students who want a quality education look for top-notch schools that offer the degrees they want, faculty that know their subject, and other points that make a school worthwhile. For those who have a strong Christian faith, that search goes further. Christian students might prefer to attend a Christian college simply to be surrounded by those of the same faith, and/or to learn in such a way that incorporates their religious beliefs.
The excellence in Christian education isn’t just found in the traditional classroom. Online education, once the territory of for-profit schools, has changed dramatically within the last decade. Many colleges and universities, including those with a Christian focus, now look to online education as a viable option for students who are unable to attend school in the traditional classroom setting. Students can now choose from fully online degrees, or take a hybrid educational approach – some courses completed online, others completed in the classroom.
Christian colleges are a serious option for those who want a good education. The following guide explores Christian colleges – what they are, who attends them and what to expect when classes begin.
Christian colleges teach students all across the United States and within a wide range of denominations. In 2013, the Department of Education reported that 970 faith-based institutions received regional or national accreditation, 570 of which were Christian.
But what does “Christian college” mean? For some institutions, it means a strong religious focus in all studies, including required courses in the faith for every enrolled student. Some schools concentrate on divinity and ministry, infusing every major with the beliefs the school was founded upon.
However, other Christian colleges take a more liberal approach. These colleges offer an atmosphere of faith and worship, but don’t require students to take classes that are focused on a particular denomination. These colleges often have a strong network of faith-based programs, clubs and organizations, however. They remain tied to the church in spirit, but allow students to find their own religious path while in an atmosphere of acceptance and spirituality.
Types of Christian Colleges
Christian colleges cover 62 official denominations, not including institutions that are Christian but non-denominational. And some denominations can be narrowed down even further, such as First Baptist and Southern Baptist, leading to an extra level of diversity. Here are some of the most notable denominations, by volume, that students might find in their quest for a religion-oriented college experience.
- Baptist. Baptists believe in the doctrine of baptism through immersion for professing believers, and trace their origins back to 1609, when the earliest Baptist church was founded in Amsterdam. There are well over 100 million Baptists worldwide, and many of them are represented by various associations – one of the largest being the Southern Baptist Association. There are five large Baptist affiliations in North America, and it’s a safe bet that Baptist colleges in the United States are tied to at least one of them.
- Catholic. More than 200 institutions in the United States consider themselves affiliated with the Catholic Church, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. These institutions are defined by a shared Christian vision and goals, reflection in the light of faith, fidelity to tradition, and commitment to service. Though about 65 percent of all undergraduates in Catholic schools are of the Catholic faith, these colleges encourage anyone to attend.
- Lutheran. Part of the Protestant Christian group, the beginnings of the Lutheran Church can be traced back to Martin Luther, who tacked his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the chapel. Those searching for a Lutheran College will find many affiliations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Independent Lutheran, and more. Over 80 million people around the world call the Lutheran Church home, so it is safe to say that students in a Lutheran college will be in good company.
- Methodist. Another Protestant Christian group, Methodist schools are based not just on excellent educational principles, but also on building loving relationships through social service. This emphasis on helping the poor and building up the life of the average person often leads to large service projects that often involve the entire campus. In addition to the United Methodist Church, there are over 40 denominations under the Methodist umbrella.
One of the most important questions for a person of faith looking into Christian colleges is simple: Just how Christian is this school? But the answer to that question can be as complex and varied as the hundreds of Christian schools out there to choose from.
Some colleges turn to scripture for the basis of many lessons, regardless of the class subject. Students might be expected to provide days of service to others, participate in ministry work, engage in charitable work, and otherwise tailor their extracurricular activities to their faith. Often these academic environments have beliefs infused into every corner of the experience, from clubs to classes to day-to-day life in residence halls. Some colleges are very conservative in their faith-based practices, and require both students and faculty to attend church regularly, to practice their faith on a clear and open basis, and sometimes sign a Christian doctrinal statement. This might be true whether students attend college in person or online.
The courses at these colleges definitely reflect the philosophy that religion should be an integral part of the college experience. Courses that focus on religious texts, the foundations of Christian living, ministry and divinity, and service within the church are all likely to be found in the course catalog. Even classes that would be taught at secular schools are presented with a religious, theological slant.
Other Christian colleges take a far more liberal stance when it comes to the college experience. At these institutions, the connection to the church is clear, but not necessarily integrated into every class, club or organization on campus. Charity and social activism is encouraged, but not seen as mandatory. Professors might be Christian but adhere to a different denomination. The curriculum also includes a balance of purely secular courses and those focused on the faith but not really influenced by it.
Just as many secular institutions have embraced distance learning as a primary delivery method for higher education, many Christian colleges have added online classes to their collections, as well. Learning remotely provides a flexible yet challenging experience for students, breaking down various "place and time" barriers while instilling self-discipline and organization. Furthermore, each type of online learning model provides a unique set of benefits that students at Christian colleges may find appealing:
Asynchronous Online Learning
Asynchronous online programs and courses allow students to set their own pace. They read materials, submit assignments and take exams either on their own schedule, or following a preset schedule with deadlines very far in advance. The self-paced option tends to attract students who need maximum flexibility to juggle work, family and other commitments.
Synchronous Online Learning
Synchronous online programs require students to be regularly engaged and active in the program. They might need to log into chat rooms at certain times, work on collaborative projects with other students, adhere to tight deadlines, take timed exams or otherwise deal with a set schedule. These classes offer a great deal of flexibility but still have the structured feel of a regular classroom.
Christian colleges can infuse beliefs and messages of faith into the online program just as easily as they can the classroom experience. Online students are likely to find numerous support groups, chat rooms and message boards that focus on the faith of the affiliated church. They can also take advantage of pastoral guidance, conference calls, service work and more through web.
What has been the biggest benefit of distance learning at your college?
Being able to manage my schedule around full-time work overseas. It allows me to complete homework and reading assignments while taking time differences into consideration. I have the freedom to work at various times of the day/night. I have the benefit of attending the Christian college of my choice.
What role has technology played in your online program and courses?
Knowing how to use a computer and the internet is essential. Having these skills made it much easier for me to return to school after so many years away.
How does your online program help prepare you for a career after graduation?
The online program helped me communicate effectively in writing, which is great considering the tools (chat, email) we use, and the popularity of social media (for class announcements). Finally, it allows me to connect without boundaries. I can work with someone who lives next door as easily as someone living overseas.
Whether students choose a secular institution or a Christian college, there is one constant that must be taken into consideration: accreditation. When a college earns accreditation, it means that an independent, government-approved agency has thoroughly vetted the quality of its programs. Accreditation is very important, not only for ensuring a quality education, but also for financial aid purposes. To receive federal aid, students must attend a school that has earned accreditation. If a student ever wants to transfer course credits from one school to another, only schools with accreditation are likely to transfer courses in full.
Accreditation for Christian colleges can come from a variety of sources. The United States Department of Higher Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize many accrediting bodies, including the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, the Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada Commission on Accrediting, and the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools Accreditation Commission.
But there are other accrediting bodies that hold weight when it comes to programs at Christian colleges, as well as the colleges themselves. The National Association of Private Theological Institutions and the Association of Independent Christian Colleges and Seminaries recognize colleges and programs that meet rigorous academic standards. In addition, there are six regional accrediting bodies that endorse public and private colleges and universities across the country.
When it comes to online education, the premiere accrediting body is the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). Students who want to take online courses through any college, Christian or secular, can visit the DETC website to determine if the online class or program has a special endorsement. Even it one doesn't, however, it may be covered by the institution's overall regional or national accreditation.
Any student thinking about college needs strong resources to help them answer pressing questions: Which school do I choose? What factors make the difference? How do I choose which colleges make my short list? What about preparation for the application essay? What happens when I get accepted? These Christian college resources can help students make the important decisions that go along with entering college.
Cedarville University Education Database:
Azusa Pacific University, Christian Research Sources:
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
The Christian Connector: Free Christian College Resource Center
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
Threads by Lifeway: College Ministry
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources
Christian College Guide
Christian colleges definitely have one important thing in common with any other college or university in the United States: cost. Even with financial aid, students can fall short of the amount needed to pay for tuition, room and board and other important things, such as books or supplies. Numerous churches sponsor scholarships for students, especially those who choose to attend a Christian college. Faith-based organizations are also a good source of scholarships for those who need the extra financial boost. Private organizations can help, as well. Below is a list of some of those private organizations and foundations that offer scholarships to those who have chosen to attend a Christian college.
Baptist Life Scholarships Amount: Varies These scholarships are given to those who are in either an undergraduate or graduate program, are insured with Baptist Life or one of its affiliates, and meet other specific requirements as to grade point average, progress, etc. More info: http://www.baptistlife.org/benefits.php
Twin Tiers Youth for Christ Scholarship Amount: $4,000 This scholarship is awarded to those who have lived in Chemung County, NY for at least six months prior to applying. Students must be Christians enrolled as an undergraduate at an accredited school. More info: http://www2.masters.edu/FinancialAid/ScholarshipDetail.asp?sid=3&sdept=CHR&spage=2
Diamonds in the Rough Ministry Scholarship Amount: Varies Awarded to a female student completing her senior year of high school in Texas, with a GPA of at least 2.5, and accepted or enrolled in an accredited college. More info: https://diamondsntherough.org/scholarships
United Church of Christ Undergraduate Scholarship Amount: $500 to $1,500 Awarded to those entering their sophomore, junior or senior year in a four-year college in the United States. Applicants must be members of the UCC. More info: http://www.ucc.org/scholarships/
Greenville College Scholarships Amount: Varies, up to $12,000 This Methodist college offers numerous scholarships for students, including those that are merit-based and need-based. Some scholarships are designed specifically for those who intend to pursue the ministry as a career. More info: http://www.greenville.edu/
Catholic Knights Financial Life Scholarship Amount: Varies These awards are given to the children and grandchildren of those in the Catholic Knights Financial Company organization. Serving at least 10 hours in one of the organization’s branches is a requirement for submitting an application. More info: http://www.catholicfinanciallife.org/Intranet1/Fraternal/Forms/FR-003-0710.pdf
The Clare Boothe Luce Program Amount: Varies The undergraduate award offers two years of financial aid in order to allow students to focus exclusively on their studies. Application is only available by invitation, and only for sophomores or juniors in the physical sciences. More info: http://www.hluce.org/cblprogram.aspx
Dora Maclellan Brown Ministry Scholarship Program Amount: Varies This scholarship is available to men and women who are in the greater Chattanooga area, intend to seek a master’s degree in divinity, and are biblically conservative. More info: http://thegenerositytrust.org/tuition-scholarships/dora-maclellan-brown-ministry-scholarship-program
WMU Foundation Amount: Varies With scholarships for over 70 students, there are numerous financial options with this scholarship fund. In addition to general scholarships, there are also those tailored for the children of missionaries. More info: http://www.wmufoundation.com/?q=content/scholarships-grants
College Christian Leaders Scholarship Amount: Varies These scholarships are based on both merit and need, and are available to those who are professed Christians, undergraduates with a GPA of 3.0 or better, and residing in California, Oregon or Washington. More info: http://www.collegechristianleader.com/
From the Source:Interview with Patricia Marshall
How do your online students participate in the school’s Christian ethos?
On-line students participate in the University's Christian ethos through actualizing the mission of the University and working toward attaining the BSN program outcomes. Students take liberal core courses that provide a foundation for Catholicity and incorporate Catholic Social teachings in readings, discussions and assessments. The BSN program outcomes build from the Villa Maria School of Nursing philosophy and statements of beliefs regarding the profession. Students actualize various Catholic Social Teachings and principles in the nursing courses and clinical sessions.
What value does your distance learning opportunities offer?
The Villa Maria School of Nursing at Gannon University offers an on-line program that is asynchronous in teaching methodology. This permits nurses who have earned an associate degree in nursing and possess a RN license to earn the next degree—baccalaureate of science in nursing (BSN)-while working full-time in the nursing profession. The value is offering a method that fits the work and life-style of the registered nurse wishing to attain more education.
Can nurses with a diploma but no academic degree still participate in the program?
Nurses with a diploma, having no prior academic degree, may enroll in the on-line BSN program but must take Gannon University’s entire liberal core which includes English, speech, history, fine arts, theology and philosophy courses. Many of the liberal core courses, while not a planned part of the on-line BSN, are available in an on-line learning platform. Students could also opt to take sciences cognates and some liberal core courses elsewhere to transfer into Gannon University.
Christian colleges are wonderful way to profess and explore faith while learning the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in today’s tough workplace. Students who are interested in attending Christian colleges can use this guide to get started, and then learn more from the admissions counselors at the schools of their choice.