Costs and Morals in Denominational Schools

Is There a Way to Control Costs and Morals in Denominational Schools?

EDUCATORS, lend me your ears! There is no doubt that today an ever-lessening commitment to Christian education is found on the part of church leaders and church members of all denominations. Both leaders and laity have ceased to promote the principles of Christian education with the vigor exercised only a few years ago.

-Pastor, Lacombe Church, on the campus of Canadian Union College, at the time this article was written

EDUCATORS, lend me your ears! There is no doubt that today an ever-lessening commitment to Christian education is found on the part of church leaders and church members of all denominations. Both leaders and laity have ceased to promote the principles of Christian education with the vigor exercised only a few years ago.

Today it is estimated that only 25 percent of Catholic students are in Catholic institutions. Only about 12 percent of Presbyterian students are in Presbyterian colleges, and less than 11 percent of Southern Baptist students are in colleges of their denomination. The Free Methodist Church estimates that half of its students are in Methodist colleges. Similarly, approximately 50 percent of Seventh-day Adventist young people attend Adventist institutions of higher learning. Practically all these churches admit that the balance is shifting in favor of the public college. Furthermore, the rapid proliferation of public colleges threatens the dual system of education on the North American continent and may very well spell the demise of many private colleges. This trend could accentuate the problems that the church-affiliated institutions are now facing.

Is there something that can be done to avert this threatening danger? Yes, there is. But it may not lie in the solutions so far propounded by practically all Christian educators. There is a need for a new and fresh approach in the attempt to save denominational schools.

The question must be answered—If there is an ever-lessening commitment on the part of church members to Christian education, why has this change in their attitude come about? Have the laity failed in their support of Christian education, or have Christian educators failed in their operation of Christian institutions? Could it be that the line of demarcation between Christian and non-Christian schools is narrowing to the extent of disheartening the church laity from lending their support to institutions that are not distinctly different from public schools? Could that be a main reason?

Changes Must Occur

If denominational schools are to continue, a change in the present goals and objectives of Christian educators must take place. Then let not church leaders in their endeavors to solve the ever-increasing problems of maintaining Christian schools talk of such seemingly plausible solutions as initiating major fund drives, developing a rationale for increased support from within or without the church, freezing salaries, paring budgets, and cutting back in faculty personnel. Each of these solutions or all of them combined will never solve the problems of denominational schools. They are at best putting "a piece of new cloth unto an old garment" (Matt. 9:16), which may very well make the rent worse. What is needed is vastly different from all of that.

As one who has observed the operations of many denominational schools in many countries; who has studied in schools, seminaries, and universities of different faiths; and who has sat on church school and col lege boards, I have come to the conclusion that if denominational schools are to continue, two conditions must be maintained. First, a distinctly high moral and spiritual standard that is vastly higher than the very best found in public institutions—a moral and spiritual standard that is worthy of financial support—must be obvious. Second, a faculty and administration that is able to practice frugality, yet practicality, both in their homes and in the operation of the institutions is necessary. I have personally seen such schools that belong to many different faiths—Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Moravian, inter-denominational, et cetera. But in this discussion I would like to discuss just one of them.

An Example

On the prairies of western Canada, on one thousand acres of land, is a large and thriving interdenominational Bible institute in a quiet, rural, and rich agricultural area. The institute has its own gardens and dairy herd, and it is able to provide for the students and staff an abundance of good food on an unusually low budget. The institute now includes a grade school with 220 students, a high school with 230 students, and a Bible school with 730 students. The high school is fully ac credited by the provincial department of education, and the grade school is inspected by it. The Bible institute offers a four-year course after the completion of high school. A graduate must obtain 136 credit hours in order to graduate. Although the Bible institute offers no degrees and no science courses, the vast majority of the student body, or 730 students, are enrolled in it.

The remarkable thing about this Bible institute is its emphasis on the study of the Bible. Every student is directed to secure his or her theological and doctrinal beliefs through direct contact with the entire body of Scripture, taking all the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in its contextual meaning and order. They refuse to adopt the methods used in many other Bible schools of different denominations where the student often spends his time studying books about the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Neither do they condone the practice of other Bible schools that are so given over to intellectualism and scholasticism that they cannot nourish or foster faith. To them such schools feed the flesh, cater to worldly wisdom, and build up the student to trust in his own ability instead of making him a humble follower of Jesus Christ.

I attended one of their graduation exercises. None of the students wore caps or gowns. Each one of them held a Bible in the hand. The Bible was their pride. They had no commencement speaker. A few members of the graduating class each gave a small sermonet on the same subject, developing one theme. Their delivery, knowledge of the Scriptures, and confidence in God were most commendable.

Personal Recruitment

How were they able to recruit so many students from all over the United States and Canada to study mainly such subjects as Bible, homiletics, personal evangelism, church history, N.T. Greek, music, English, and missions? They do that not by having an intensive program of recruitment, or by sending public-relations personnel all over the country seeking students, or by scheduling tours for musical bands or tumbling teams—they have no budget for such luxuries. The students and their parents do the recruiting. They tell their neighbors, friends, and church members what Christian education has done for them or their children. As a result many students enroll seeking an education that can change the lives and hearts of the young people. This method, that does not call for an outlay of means, is more productive and representative of Christian education than tumbling teams or similar enticements could ever be.

But lest you think that the students like their school because of the lax social standards, let me hasten to briefly discuss their regulations.

Standards Are High

Social relations are carefully regulated between men and women during their years of attendance at school. There are no exclusive conversations anywhere on the campus between students of the opposite sex. Students are expected to refrain from correspondence, dating, or other associations that might result in premature emotional entanglements that hinder them from placing God and His will first in their lives. Girls and boys sit at different tables in the cafeteria and on different sides in the classroom. When they go out on street meetings or rescue missions they go in separate cars or sit on opposite sides in the bus. Holding hands, kissing, and petting are taboo. Only seniors are allowed to talk with their boy or girl friends with chaperonage for a period of twenty minutes twice a month.

The dress standards are spelled out. Dresses and skirts, irrespective of cut or style, must be of such length so as to cover the knees at all times. Tight (profile) skirts are not permitted, neither are wide or low-cut necklines. Sleeves must cover the elbow for all public appearances. No girl is permitted to wear earrings or make-up. The beauty of character is always held before them. No wonder cases of unwed mothers have not been known in the history of the institute. Indeed, irregularities do some times take place. However, when infringement of any social, moral, or dress standard takes place, proper discipline is immediately administered.

As to the young men, they receive barbershop services every two weeks at no extra cost to them. Only regular, modest haircuts are allowed. Ducktails, block haircuts, and long sideburns are not permitted. All men are expected to be clean shaven at all times.

Spiritual Interest Stimulated Rather Than Entertainment

The institute has no entertainment pro grams on Saturday nights or any other night. They have no use for amusements, and none of the students dance or go to theaters or shows. In fact none of the faculty or staff members even own a television set; neither are such sets found in any dormitory. Instead they have a weekly missionary meeting conducted by students and open to the public.

These meetings are held on Friday evening; the students arrange messages from the Scriptures, testimonies, or biographical sketches of missionary heroes and thereby stimulate missionary interest in the uttermost parts of the earth. In every building in the institute hang posters about world missions or texts from the Bible. Students pride themselves in the reputation that was once heaped upon them as reproach that their institute "just makes missionaries."

Almost 50 per cent of the institute's graduates go to mission fields in Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, the Near East, South America, and the islands of the seas. To date, at least 1,627 of its students serve or have served as foreign missionaries in 82 countries, and 1,046 more are serving as pastors and Christian workers.

Although no radios are allowed in the dormitories, the institute emphasizes mu sic. Many courses in music are taught, and choirs and/or bands render sacred music in all the services.

Students are kept busy and happy. Particular stress is given to achieving practical skills and a balanced, sane outlook toward life—an outlook that will help the students in their future ministry abroad or in the homeland. Every student is expected to work ten and a half hours per week during the school year. Students who work during the summer holidays on the campus are exempt from all tuition, board, and room charges for the entire school year. Strong emphasis is placed on the value of personal physical fitness, and courses offered in physical education include physical conditioning, team games, and skill games.

As part of their social activities the students hold three banquets a year. These generate a great deal of enthusiasm and ingenuity.

Tuition Unusually Low

It is in the area of finances, however, that another unique and distinctive factor for the success of the institute is to be found. Here are some startling figures about their financial program. It costs a grade school student $60 a year for tuition. There are no boarding facilities for that age group. High school students are charged $890 a year for tuition, room, and board. The 730 Bible institute students that constitute the majority of the student body pay only $555 a year for tuition, room, and board, or about one fifth of what other denominational institutions with similar facilities charge. Although these charges seem unthinkably low, yet they take care of two thirds of the entire operational budget of the institute. The other one third, or about $180,000 annually, is realized from memorials, gifts, legacies, and annuities. Furthermore, because of the investment income, as well as their small administrative and staff costs, the school was able to show last year an excess of income over expenses of almost $19,000 in the total operation of the school.

How were they able to do it? Well, they realized early that the success of the institute depended to a great extent on the devotion and consecration of the faculty and staff. No emphasis is placed on degrees. While they appreciate advanced educational qualifications, they employ only teachers who have a clear commitment to Christian education. Staff members serve without normal salaries. Each one is given living accommodations suited to his needs. Grocery allowances vary from $32.50 per month for a single person to $136.00 for a family of six. All medical costs and utilities are paid for them, and each staff member receives $25.00 from the staff fund for personal needs. Each of them, whether president or plumber, principal or printer, secretary or stenographer, treasurer or trucker, teacher or preacher, farmer or fireman, carpenter or cook, electrician or laborer, receives the same allowance, and all are happy for it. Groceries are provided at very reasonable prices, and because of the way their remunerations are set up, no one pays any income tax whatsoever. They are able to enjoy moderate conveniences in spite of their frugality. Indeed, none of them own the latest car and none live in luxury, but they all dress well and neatly and enjoy very good health. Their homes compare very well with ministers of other denominations.

The Impossible Has Been Accomplished

Here is one institution, among others, that without any question has overcome in the battle against costs and the breakdown in social standards. Regardless of whether one agrees with all of their beliefs or regulations, he is bound to admit that they were able to accomplish what many educators regard as impossible in this day and age. The fact that in the seventies there is an institution like this proves that young people are "strong" (1 John 2:14) and are willing to be molded if there are adults who are willing to accept that fact. It also proves that the problem of high costs does not merely lie in the depreciating value of the dollar, but to a greater degree in the institutional requirements demanded by some educators, as well as in the standard of living practiced by some of them.

Some denominations are, without any question, investing a maximum portion of the church dollar in Christian education. They do that in spite of their disappointment in what goes on in Christian institutions. They do that in their desperate endeavor to save their children. Christian educators owe these faithful believers a great deal. It is true that to surmount the financial problems of Christian education, church members should exhibit today the kind of faith and confidence exhibited by the church in the past, but to a greater degree that also applies to the teachers. More than ever before, all educators today should manifest the same sacrificial spirit and dedication as their founding fathers.

Leadership, the Important Factor

The key to the financial problems of Christian schools today must be found in the kind of leadership given by Christian teachers, and not merely in the financial support of the laity.

In the erection of school buildings, in their furnishing, and in every feature of their management the strictest economy must be practiced.— Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 208.

Instead of incurring debts, or depending on the self-denial of their parents, let young men and young women depend on themselves.—Education, p. 221.

Indeed, when all workers realize that "the question of finance can be managed nicely, if all the workers will be willing when there is a pressure for means, to accept less wages" (Selected Message's, book 2, p. 207), and that God wants the "educational institutions at this time ... to set before the world an example" (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 57) and not to make the world their example; when "the word of God is made the basis of education" (Fundamentals of Education, p. 541); and when all realize that "the saving of souls is worth far more than mere intellectual training" (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 207)—when all of this is realized, then there is hope for denominational schools.

As Hudson Taylor said: "God's work, done in God's way, will never lack God's support."


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-Pastor, Lacombe Church, on the campus of Canadian Union College, at the time this article was written

December 1971

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