Bible College?

 

A student should be able to answer these questions before pursuing enrollment in a Bible college:

  • What is my motivation to consider a Bible college?

  • What theological emphases do I want to look for?

  • Am I disciplined enough to consider a distance or online program?

  • Which program and major should I choose?

  • Which accreditation should I look for?

  • How long will it take me?  

"What is my motivation to consider a Bible college?"  This is the most important answer a student should know when considering a Bible college.  There are at least three different answers!   First, a student knows he is called to ministry and is desiring to build a foundation to equip.  Second, a student is desiring to learn more about God, the Bible, and furthering knowledge to benefit himself and also the people around him.  Third, a student is interested in the first two answers, but is also concerned with secular career development.  Determining the motivation is necessary to selecting the degree, major, and type of school accreditation.  See "Which program and major should I choose?" further below.

"What theological emphases do I want to look for?"  The statement of faith, values, or beliefs of the school are important to read.  Many schools have a good generic statement of faith, but some of their courses lean toward a specific theological stance.   Fundamental, Holiness, and Pentacostal/Charasmatic theologies are examples of different emphases.  Even within these theological divisions, denominations in any one of these groups also have some important theological differences.  In the group "Fundamental", Southern Baptist, General Association of Regular Baptist, Independent Baptist, and Evangelical Free are examples of different sub-emphases in theology, yet they are considered "Fundamental".  Even within a denomination, there may be differences from region to region or church to church.  Some schools purposely design courses and programs with a "dogma" approach to major controversies and theological differences.  Rather than risking the student developing a different theology than the school's or not converting a student perspective, a school might structure a narrow teaching that overemphasizes the school's perspective.  Some schools over-teach their differences from other groups so much that valuable learning time is lost in other important areas.  

Some schools believe a reasonable multi-view of theological perspectives allows the Holy Spirit to guide the individual to truth.  This method is thought to allow each student to develop personal convictions about specific doctrines rather than adopting someone else's faith as head knowledge.  They attempt to use curriculum resources that include authors and speakers from different backgrounds, but have some fundamental basics in common.   They believe this is a good method because the student also learns why opposing views were developed, so they are equipped to better teach and defend convictions.   

A helpful method to get the answer to the theological emphasis question is to briefly research the authors of resource books used in  a school's courses, then give the variety of author names to your pastor or other trusted theologian to review.  They should be able to quickly tell you the emphasis or spectrum of doctrines presented just by the names of authors.   Because man is fallible, authors will always have some areas that are in error or that you disagree with. 

"Am I disciplined enough to consider a distance or online program?"  There are several important benefits using a distance or online program to complete training.  It can allow students to continue their current work or situation.  It can prevent the student from accumulating years of debt.  It keeps the student from relocating.  The student can often schedule weekly hours that fit his situation.  In the past, it was important to have the assurance to transfer to another school due to relocation.  Today, technology allows completion of many degrees from the same school no matter where the student is located.   The student should be realistic about the decision to enroll in a distance or online program.  Online and distance programs require a substantial amount of self-discipline and prioritization.  It can be very easy for an individual to feel he will be disciplined enough to prioritize school work while maintaining a job, social life, and existing ministry responsibilities.  Those who are undisciplined often do not realize they are undisciplined!  Many students require a structured, traditional classroom method for accountability.  If working off campus, scheduled weekly school time must be legalistically maintained.  Students should ask a local authority figure in their life to be an accountability partner to regularly check weekly goals and progress.  Students often benefit if they can find one or two other local people to enroll at the same time to build a local accountability and encouragement structure.  Students should communicate with family and friends the need to protect scheduled school time such as phone calls, texting, and visits.   

"Which program and major should I choose?"  This depends on the motivation to enroll in a Bible college.  Because the student is considering a Bible college to begin with, the program should include a broad base of courses dealing with the Bible, doctrine, and Christian living.  The major will depend on the calling, interests, and gifting of the student.  It is also important to know how the diploma and transcript will be worded.  If the student is concerned about the benefit of the degree for potential secular benefit, the following should be considered:  The degree program wording (B.S., B.A., Th.B., etc.) can be important, although many secular positions do not require a specific bachelor degree to qualify.  Students may be able to get by with "Bachelor degree from Schoolname College 2010-2013".  Some secular positions naturally require a specific major because of the unique job.  Ministry positions often prefer a ministry major or a theological degree such as a Th.B. or M.Div.  The school name may affect how employers view the student.   The school name can reflect the training was religious and even denominational.  Occasionally, employers will ask if it is a degree from an accredited school, but do not specify the type of accreditation.  Some employers (often teaching positions) will specifically ask if it is a regionally accredited school or an accreditation recognized by the Dept. of Education.  As with any school, the ability to switch majors or programs within the school after the first year or two is important.     

"Which accreditation should I look for?"  Accreditation is generally described as an outside evaluation of a school by a qualified-to-evaluate organization.  It is important to look for a school that has outside peer evaluation to ensure quality and a standardized structure for degrees.  Because accreditations take years for a school to qualify, there are at least three statuses of accreditation to be aware of: Applicant Status is where the school has submitted their initial application, often with substantial information about the school.  Candidate Status is where the application information has been thoroughly reviewed and it appears the school may be able to meet the accrediting organization's criteria.  Fully Accredited or Accredited is where the school has supplied all requested information, has had a site visit, and met all criteria.  Most accreditations will require regular review and site visits of the school to make sure the quality and standards are still being met or surpassed, and all changes in courses or programs must be first reviewed before implementation. 

For Bible colleges and seminaries, "which" accrediting organization doing the accrediting is often a a question of school cost rather than quality.  Accrediting organizations that are on the Department of Education's approved list charge very large accrediting fees to schools compared to theological accrediting organizations not considered by the Dept. of Education. Some Bible colleges must use one of these accrediting organizations on the Dept. of Education's list because they offer non-Biblical programs such as business, public school teaching, and other liberal arts programs.  These schools are willing to pay much higher accreditation fees to have a Dept. of Education recognized accreditation and pass the cost onto students, because it allows student participation in Federal grants and loans (FAFSA), plus tax benefits such as the Hope Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit for income tax.  So... students may need a grant, loan, and tax benefit just to pay higher tuition that allows participation in grants, loans, and tax benefits?  Did you get that?  Because schools pay more for accreditation to have access to financial aid, more students actually need financial aid because the school's tuition is higher.  This sounds like a reform waiting to happen!  Unfortunately, many students must use repayable Perkins and Stafford loans, because the grant and tax benefits are not enough to cover the increased tuition to cover higher accreditation costs.  The Dept. of Education recognized accreditation organizations are a vicious cycle created after the G.I. Bill, so the Federal Government could make sure its money given to veterans' education was being spent at reputable schools.  Unfortunately, these original accrediting organizations have grown their financial overhead so large they must charge schools to where it is a major percentage of tuition.   

The bottom line:  If you are pursuing a Bible, Ministry, or Theological degree, it is important to consider an accredited school that is being thoroughly reviewed by at least one outside organization.  Accountability is always a good structure.  It is beneficial to make sure the accrediting organization accredits a significant number of schools.  It is normally required that an accredited school will receive transfer credits from other member schools.  This gives a student other options in case the student wishes to change schools. The accrediting organization does NOT need to be one recognized by the Dept. of Education.  The government's approval of religious schools is not required, nor constitutional to be required.  Most ministry positions do not require a Dept. of Education approved accreditation.  However, degrees without a Dept. of Education approved accreditation may have less graduate schools (seminaries) from which to choose.  Due to advances in technology for distance learning, this is not as big of issue as it once was. Students no longer have geographical limitations when choosing a seminary. There are two major reasons to consider a Dept. of Education recognized accredited Bible college:  1. Many teaching positions at Bible colleges and seminaries may also require a Dept. of Education approved accreditation to keep their Dept. of Education approved accreditation.  2. If you want to enroll in a Bible college and will NOT be pursuing a Bible, Ministry, or Theological major, then a higher cost Dept. of Education approved accredited school is normally the way to go.  Degrees for public school teaching (liberal arts), sciences, and other non-theological areas are often forced to have a Dept. of Education approved accreditation for credentialing, transfer, and graduate school opportunities.  

"Why do Bible colleges use a Dept. of Education approved accreditation?" There are several reasons.  Most campus-based Bible colleges, which cost significantly more than public colleges,  cannot survive without offering financial aid.  Campus-based Bible colleges must charge students a significant amount, often more than a student's resources.  Some Bible colleges also offer liberal arts and other non-theological degrees.  The students pursuing a theological degree must suffer from higher tuition, because a Dept. of Education approved accreditation is required for other degree programs offered at that school.  

"Why do Bible colleges NOT use a Dept. of Education approved accreditation?"   Many schools desire to keep tuition so low that financial aid is not required, and the student is not encumbered with debt later while in ministry.  Some believe the government has no right to approve directly or indirectly the training structure of religious convictions.  They also feel the government is not equipped to properly evaluate an area where it has no expertise.  A plumber would not accredit an electrician, and vice-versa.  These schools often pursue an accreditation that specializes in faith-based training that is not influenced by the government. 

"How Long Will It Take Me?"   This may depend on whether a school is accredited or not.  Beware of schools that say you can graduate in a shorter time than normal! This is one of the signs the school may not have a good accreditation.  Most accreditations require each credit or unit to involve at least fifteen hours of classroom involvement.  That means a three credit course will have forty-five hours of classroom involvement.  The length to completion may vary on whether it is a campus-based or distance/online structure. 

Most campus-based structures with summer and holiday breaks will lock you into two years for an Associate degree and four years for a Bachelor degree.  Because many accredited distance and online programs allow year-round study, students can theoretically graduate with a bachelor degree in three years.  Some distance programs are lock-stepped and do not allow individualized scheduling.  These type of structures will take the same time as campus-based. 

If the distance program is individualized, students may either be able to complete the program in shorter or longer periods. For some, being able to take longer is good because they may not have as much time per week to allocate toward school.  Many schools place a reasonable time limit to complete a course once it is begun to discourage spreading the course out too long and losing the context.  Beware of schools advertising "2-3 years to get a bachelor degree".  It might be possible for a gifted and disciplined student, but not for the typical student, especially one that has a part-time job, family, or other responsibilities.   Individualized programs do allow students with more time to finish faster because they are not held back by a group's progress or school breaks and holidays.  An individualized program is normally the most efficient structure because it allows the student to work at his ability.  In areas the student understands, he can quickly proceed.   If a student is struggling in an area, an individualized structure allows the student to take more time to master that area without feeling pressured by the group's progress.   Many distance programs require a substantial amount of reading.  A person's reading comprehension speed should be taken into account for time requirements.

The bottom line: You should evaluate the factors of campus-based versus distance/online.  You should evaluate the distance program for lock-stepped versus individualized.  You should realistically evaluate your allocated time for school, and whether you will work year-round.  You should also evaluate your reading comprehension and work ethic.