Taking a Fresh Look at Faith-Based Education

03/31/2010  |  DR. EDDIE G. GRIGG
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Throughout the country, high school seniors are seeking information from a wide variety of postsecondary educational institutions as they look to find the one institution to serve their educational and career needs. This is the time of year when parents and high school guidance counselors are facing the task of advising and guiding young minds toward a decision that is right for the student. 

There is much information for students and their parents to understand. They will need time for study and may need a well-trained guidance counselor or academic adviser to help them work through the maze, but it is worth the effort. A clear understanding of the types of postsecondary institutions and accreditation will result in a better decision and money saved. A college is a degree granting institution offering education beyond high school, called postsecondary education. A university goes beyond the college level and offers master and often doctorate level degree programs. Postsecondary education includes community colleges, public colleges, private colleges, Liberal Arts Colleges, cultural colleges, specialty colleges, for-profit proprietary colleges and faith-based colleges.

In deciding about college, the student, parent, and guidance counselor should consider faith-based institutions. Faith-based schools are almost always private nonprofit entities. They are often, but not always, more expensive than public colleges. However, students and parents will need to plan how to pay for the education.

Historically, education has been rooted in faith, especially postsecondary higher education, and this transcends all faith groups. The oldest continuously operating degree granting institution is the University of Al-Karaouine in Egypt founded in 859 A.D. for training Muslims. In the U.S., Harvard University came into existence after John Harvard willed his entire library and a sum of money equal to half of his estate to help educate ministers. Faith was the driving force for establishing the institution in 1636 without a campus, professors, or even a single student.

Faith has long been the driving force that called out to noble leaders to pass along knowledge to the next generation.  While the motivation for a few people was teaching faith, schools did not limit teaching to a sacred text, but included all aspects of the universe. Believing that God designed and created all that exists, faith-based institutions strive to teach all knowledge, by forging a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence within the learner. 

Faith-based education works on the premise that the more knowledge and wisdom a person gains, the more solid his or her faith becomes. These institutions are not afraid of the sciences, but rather count on the sciences to help complete the puzzle of knowledge. Regardless of the field of study, correctly learned knowledge points to intelligent design and helps to complete the puzzle that man has worked on for hundreds of years. The faith community does not fear knowledge, but embraces it.

In seeking a college, university, or seminary, students should seek one that develops true wisdom in the student, not just knowledge. Data exists and is raw, it has no significance beyond its existence and is little more than symbols. Information is data that has been given some relevant meaning and provides some answers to the “who,” “what,” “when” or “where” questions. Knowledge is the correct collection of information and answers the “how” question. Students take raw data and information and gain knowledge by the proper collection of information.  This is what the elementary schoolchild does in memorizing multiplication tables, yet when asked a more complex number, say 445 x 250, the answer is not immediately available. The student has amassed knowledge, but lacks the cognitive and analytical skills to complete an interpolative and probabilistic process needed for understanding.

True faith-based education provides the needed tools to enable the student to use cognitive and analytical skills. This is the difference between memorizing and learning. Learning takes place when understanding is evident. Understanding gives the student appreciation for the knowledge and answers the “why” questions. Most people are content at this point, they are joyful that they have gained data, information, knowledge and understanding.

Russell Ackoff adequately pointed out in his “Theory of Wisdom” that the stored information in the human mind — data, information, knowledge, and understanding — all point to the past. This is where most education ends, but not in the faith-based institution. True faith-based education tries to move the student to wisdom. Wisdom is an analytical, extrapolative, and discerning progression that calls on all previous levels of training, especially moral principles, and enables one to perceive and demonstrate understanding in areas where no previous understanding exists. It is the process by which a person discerns good from bad and right from wrong, a characteristic needed for success in business and patriotism. 

Along with embracing knowledge, faith-based institutions and schools deeply influenced by faith and the search for knowledge, quickly developed codes of conduct to stress integrity of character. Faith-based colleges, universities and seminaries are private faith-based institutions and place emphasis on character development as well as academic achievement. These institutions are concerned with more than mere academics, and seek to provide the student all the tools needed for a well-rounded disciplined life. It is the difference between gaining knowledge and gaining wisdom. 

There is a wide misconception that secular institutions provide a better education for today’s youth. Those holding such a theory argue that education should be about discovering information, facts and data. These modernists think that education is faith versus fact. Therefore, most secular schools ignore teaching faith. 

Faith-based colleges and universities believe the two are natural companions and that all knowledge comes from God.  Without faith, there is no moral compass to guide humanity. Life descends into bottomless sinkholes of self-absorption and animalistic mayhem. Faith-based schools strongly believe that a true education is the ability to think, reason, and create from a moral perspective. This is what scripture means when it refers to people being created in the “image” of God. 

True faith-based education enables the realization that each person is created in the image of God and given the ability to think, reason, and create from a moral perspective. It drives students to respect themselves and others, instilling a desire for doing right and for helping other people. One does not have to look hard to see the need for a greater moral-compass in today’s society. It is visible on Wall Street and on Main Street. It encompasses the offices and the boardrooms, and is in political arenas and sports arenas. Without a moral compass, civilization can justify dark and wicked digressions. In fact, it is the lack of a greater moral compass that cries out across this country and around the world. This is why every parent should consider sending their child to faith-based postsecondary schools and institutions.

Education is much more than simply rushing blindly into a sea of theories decorated with scattered ships of facts blown about by winds of fiction. Education must not ignore faith and civilization’s search for that higher ideal which makes humanity more than animalistic. Faith-based education addresses the whole person, not just academics.

True faith-based higher education includes the humanities, languages, behavior sciences, natural sciences, communications, as well as faith, all skillfully woven together into wisdom. Faith-based institutions do not restrict enrollment to those holding a set dogma, and they do not want to mold every student into identical spiritual men and women.  Faith better qualifies the student to face the challenges of life. The student gains the assurance that God is guiding and enabling him to succeed in life, and enabling him to overcome obstacles that arise in life’s paths. Students from faith-based schools better understand the need to encompass faith and a biblical world view into their daily lives, whether about family values or life’s vocation.

Faith-based institutions promote a positive biblical world view. They teach biblical theology in a systematic way to help the student understand the Holy Scriptures as a whole, like pieces of a puzzle fit together to form a view of the world that is complete and whole. Unlike the Bible stories of children or topical sermons in church, systematic theology allows the student to complete the puzzle under the skillful hands of an expert. Students learn, many for the first time, the scripture is logical and that God is a God of logic and order, not of chaos and confusion. Every parent wants his or her children to be successful in life, and owning a good solid theological understanding enables the student to accomplish that parental goal.

Faith-based education helps to instill core values into a well-rounded biblical world view. This biblical world view settles the decisions the student will make about life, ranging from the mundane, to the more significant, to the questions about life, death, and eternity. Gaining core positions and beliefs are a product of inquiry and acceptance of discussions with the teachings of mentors and professors as students communicate that which is right, good, and acceptable, and challenge that which is wrong, evil, and unacceptable for a biblical worldview.

Unlike most secular schools, faith-based institutions unashamedly teach the Bible as God-breathed. It is honored and viewed as profitable for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (Second Timothy 3:16-17, NIV). Students learn to seek out the correct meaning of biblical text and to understand and apply the principles correctly to their lives. The teaching of scripture trains and equips students for every good work, and faith-based institutions do not shy away from teaching scripture.

Realizing the biblical worldview naturally clashes with the secular worldview, faith-based schools teach students to stand firm in their beliefs with “integrity of heart” and to live in a manner that answers to a higher authority.

Just as parents and guidance counselors should help the student in understanding the differences in secular schools; it is equally important to help the student understand the differences in faith-based institutions. There are three items that should be carefully verified when considering the legitimacy of all postsecondary institutions.

First, the student should verify the institution is a degree granting institution and operating legally in the state where it is conducting degree activity. State requirements differ, so make sure you research the general statues. In some states, schools have different methods of becoming a degree granting institution. In North Carolina, postsecondary institutions can be licensed to conduct degree activity, or be exempt from licensing. Many schools of faith seek exemption from licensing because of separation of church and state. There are limits to what degrees can be conducted under exemption, but exemption does not mean a lower quality education. 

Second, the student should find out if the institution is accredited and what accreditation it holds. For the United States Department of Education to “recognize” an accreditation agency,  its schools must meet predetermined criteria by the Department of Education to ensure acceptable levels of education. Students should understand there are various types of accreditation, and not all accreditation is recognized by the United States Department of Education. 

Accreditation that is “recognized” in the United States consists of the practice of peer review and accountability of agreed standards of quality. It gives the public the assurance that an institution meets a minimum standard of educational and institutional quality, and it provides the educational institutions a process for constant improvement and development. Students can feel comfortable the institution they have selected teaches course material on a level equal to that of other institutions using skilled and academically qualified faculty. Students have the comfort and benefit of being able to transfer credits among accredited schools, although some regionally accredited schools practice regional snobbery. In the United States, eligible students have the added benefits of receiving federal grants and guaranteed federal student loans.

Third, remember the Department of Education sets the standards that all accreditation agencies must meet to be recognized by the United State Department of Education and allowed to disburse Title IV Funds. Therefore, it is safe to assume that if a postsecondary institution offers PELL FSEOG, or Stafford loans, the institution is operating legally and holds a recognized accreditation.

Students should reject all colleges and universities that do not hold a recognized accreditation that is recognized by the United States Department of Education.

There are three types of accreditation:

• Regional

• National

• Programmatic.

There are six regional accreditation agencies in the United States. Some consider regional accreditation the gold standard of accreditation, but that is painting with too broad of a brush. National accreditation is more institutional and usually is awarded to a school with more limited focus. Many faith-based institutions hold this form of accreditation. Programmatic accreditation, also known as specialized or professional accreditation, is designed for specialized departments, programs, schools, or colleges within a university or institution that has already received accreditation. Students seeking a career in medicine, dental, or law will need to attend schools with a programmatic accreditation to insure their ability to test and receive a license to practice in their chosen field.  

There are three accrediting agencies that are distinctively Christian that are recognized by the United States Department of Education, and they all fall under National Accreditation. The oldest faith-based accrediting agency is the Association of Theological School; it only accredits graduate programs. The next oldest is the Association for Biblical Higher Education that was established in 1947, although it did not accredit graduate degree programs until a mission shift in 2004. The youngest of the three is Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). This accrediting agency was established in 1971 and accredits both the undergraduate and graduate programs. All faith-based colleges, universities, and seminaries should hold accreditation from one of these three, unless it has opted to go with regional accreditation.  In fact, many faith-based colleges, universities and seminaries have multiple accreditations. 

All recognized accreditation provides quality assurance. They hold the institution and its programs to a high-level of services through a process of constant assessment and peer evaluations by external bodies. 

Take a fresh look at faith-based education. It has come a long way and represents the gold standard of excellence.

Dr. Eddie G. Grigg is President of New Life Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. For information visit www.nlts.edu.

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