In every decade since 1980, there have been experts in higher education who have predicted that private education would go into serious decline, forcing the closing of hundreds of private institutions. In spite of reductions in educational spending by federal and state governments, those predictions have not proven generally accurate. True, some schools that lost the support of their constituencies or failed to change with the times have disappeared. What about our five Wesleyan institutions?
One of the constant strengths of The Wesleyan Church that contributes to optimism about our future is our commitment to Wesleyan higher education. The partnership between the schools and the Church has been healthy and consistent. Over the last dozen years or more, the enrollment trend, in spite of a couple blips, has been stable or positive. This has been true of traditional undergraduate education as well as adult education.
What about Wesleyan students? Are our own young people still considering Wesleyan colleges, and are the schools serving the Church well? Yes, over 1,000 of the traditional undergraduate students are Wesleyans, and have been so for the last generation. About half of those are ministerial students. Wesleyan students received $10,371,000 in financial aid from their schools, not counting government and other outside financial aid. This is nearly $10,000 per student, on average.
Wesleyan churches provide educational support to the institutions as a portion of the United Stewardship Fund that all churches contribute. But interestingly,for every dollar in support going to Wesleyan colleges from the churches, nearly two dollars in scholarship aid is provided to Wesleyan students by the schools.
Ministerial training is of special importance to the Church. With the establishment of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, the trend toward seminary education is up. There are approximately 200 Wesleyans pursuing graduate ministerial training at Wesley Seminary and other seminaries and graduate programs. And with the FLAME program (essentially a Bible college on wheels), there are other alternative pathways of training available for adults of non-traditional age in our churches.
But the undergraduate ministerial component at our colleges still anchors our leadership development and is vitally important to the Church’s future. The metrics show that even with growth in graduate and non- traditional programs, our core undergraduate training programs are remaining stable.
Many have noted that vital Christian education at the college level is getting more scarce. The historical trends there are undeniable. At one time, 60% of all higher education in North America was decidedly Christian in its assumptions and focus. Particularly since the middle of the twentieth century, most Christian schools have become more secular. Today, only 2-3% of all college students in North America are attending an institution that is evangelically Christian in its character and mission.
Our Wesleyan colleges are Houghton College in western New York; Indiana Wesleyan University; Kingswood University in New Brunswick, Canada; Oklahoma Wesleyan University; and Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina.
We are fortunate that all five of our institutions remain absolutely committed to the purposes for which they were founded, to the partnership with the Church, and to a Christ- centered mission and focus. The governing boards of the institutions are appointed by the Church, which helps ensure that mission, but it requires the active leadership of each generation to keep the relationship vital and working well.
The Wesleyan Church, against all the trends of most other denominations in North America, has been steadily growing in conversions, baptisms, attendance, and other metrics. A strong case can be made that the health and clear Christ-centered mission of our five colleges have been a factor in this, and that it will continue to be so.
What grade for Wesleyan colleges?
Final grades? In overall quality of the institutions, including academic programs, the grade is A, as validated by independent raters across the board. In keeping the Christ-centered mission vibrant, our Wesleyan colleges and universities are extraordinary, and all receive a well-deserved A+!