If you’re looking for information about Christian colleges, you may have come across the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The CCCU is a non-profit association of educational institutions that is, according to its mission statement, committed to advancing “the cause of Christ-centered higher education.” Their main work is to help their member and affiliate institutions find ways to do just that.
History of Christian Universities in America
In Europe, many colleges and universities were adjuncts of religious organizations such as the Catholic Church, and blended religious tenets with government. Although that mixture is one of the reasons people came to America, early American settlers brought that tradition with them to this new country. They wanted to ensure that their children and young people had a Christian foundation, even though they rebelled at the the large European churches that decreed to which church they must belong. Most of the youth were educated through apprenticeships or by private tutors. In 1647, the School Law emerged, which came out of the “Old Deluder Satan Act” that required schools to teach reading, writing of scriptures.
Youth of age to begin professions needed higher education. The denominations present in early America started colleges. The Classroom.com points out that the first colleges in this country began as institutions to “further Christian learning.” Indeed, Harvard was one of these schools. Many began as seminaries ensuring that the clergy would be literate. Of the first 108 colleges in America, 106 were Christian schools. Eventually, for “quality control” a union of schools formed which through many mutations became one of today’s accrediting organizations.
Today, there is a myriad of Christian colleges and universities that offer the same rigorous academics that the secular schools have, but also impart a Christian ethic.
Competition with Secular Schools
Students in Christian schools have the same right to Pell Grants and other funding as do students in secular schools. That is, they do if they comply with federal laws. Lately, those laws have been challenging a number of fundamental church beliefs, according to an article in the Huffington Post. To get federal dollars, schools must abide by federal standards. A recent Canadian court decision denied graduates from Trinity Western University membership in two law societies because of the religious views of the school on heterosexual marriage. The disparity in Christian beliefs and the secular world culture is widening, and this creates challenges for the Christian institutions of higher learning. That’s where the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities comes in.
Schools that apply for membership in CCCU must be accredited. That is an important feature. Accreditation ensures that the academic programs meet standards for adequate professional preparation, and that faculty members are satisfactory. Accreditation also makes it easier for students to transfer credits between institutions and to receive public scholarships and grants. According to the CCCU website, the organization espouses “three pillars of Strategic Focus.”
The first of these is public advocacy. The organization advocates for schools to be able to maintain their Christian perspective and tenets and yet to have access to public education funds. Recently, legislation normalizing same-sex marriage compromised the “Biblical faith tenet” of CCCU member schools in California. The new legislation would only have allowed schools that actually train clergy to “protect institutional beliefs on sex and marriage.” The group mobilized Christian schools, hired a lobbyist and managed to persuade the governor to veto the bill. The group was not making a statement on the LBGTQ community as such, but on the ability of Christian colleges and universities to stand by their credo.
CCCU also advocates for DACA students and has long supported “Dreamers.” They signed on to two amicus briefs ( a brief submitted by a non-involved “friend of the court” in a case) before the Supreme Court supporting DACA students. Their position on this issue is reflected in a statement found on their website: “ We believe a bipartisan, permanent legislative solution for Dreamers from Congress is the best means to provide a long-term solution for these young people and their communities.”
These are only two examples of the advocacy pillar of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. The public positions taken by CCCU give individual schools a framework upon which to base their policies.
Professional Development and Scholarship
The second pillar is professional development and scholarship. This includes a focus on faculty development and excellence as well as on a cooperation between membership schools to offer broad-based online education and consortiums. Some of these types of faculty and professional resources would otherwise only be available only to secular school faculty outside of the activities of CCCU.
The third pillar involves off-campus experiential learning experiences that compare to the secular study-abroad opportunities of other schools. CCCU has members in 19 different countries where students can broaden their vision and be exposed to other cultures. There are also special opportunities in music in Nashville and in film.
This is an exciting aspect of CCCU, and one that helps students bring their Christian worldview back into a secular culture. One of the statements on the CCU website is this: “Education is not just about what students learn. It’s about transforming students into the ethical, values-driven leaders God has called them to be.” Students cannot function on a separate cloud, but must emerge from their Christian education to affect the world. One of the ways they accomplish that is through Christian music ( an area of ministry that has been growing in world popularity) and Christian film. Opportunities to participate in events like “BestSemester” can be “game changers” for Christian artists.
No School is an Island
Although there is an innate struggle between Christian schools and government initiatives, the council for Christian Colleges and Universities is helping its member schools meet cultural and racial challenges. In a recent Washington Post article Shirley Hoogstra, president of the CCCU, said the 140 US schools in her consortium, are “seeking to find ways to foster appropriate relations on their campuses.” This effort is partially fueled by the recent racial demonstrations and riots, but also comes from the changing demographics of the organization. The non-white population at CCCU schools has grown considerably. The important contribution of the organization is to be able to create a pattern of inclusivity and diversity across its member schools that could not be achieved on an individual basis.
Acting as the unifying organ of the Christian college assembly, the CCCU receives and coordinates many grants that result in ground-breaking initiatives at member schools. For instance, two grants are available to member faculty members funded by a financial “gift” from Christian Community Credit Union. The first is up to three $5,000 grants to faculty teams to plan research projects and the second is three $30,000 grants to teams to implement research projects. The aim of the grants is to “bring Christian voices into contemporary academic conversations.”
Another initiative gives grants of $1,000 to member schools to begin immigration-focused programming. CCCU instituted the Prison Education Task Force to “brainstorm ideas for future grant funding and events” to help member schools with prison educational programs. Other initiatives include online programs in Christian inclusion leadership, stem research, and many others.
What do these “initiatives” mean for member schools? It gives them the opportunity to bring culturally relevant and impactful programs to their communities that they would not have had the resources to present on their own. Many of these opportunities are made possible by grants to the council by individual endowments and gifts from partners and affiliates.
Another aspect of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities is publications, both online and in print. These “magazines” feature articles that inform, educate and encourage the staff and faculties of member schools. A recent article on the website was about the availability of Pell Grants to prisoners. Another addressed the changing demographics on CCCU campuses and the ways to address diversity, such as hiring more diverse faculty. The publications also inform faculty of incentives and grants, and spotlight award winners.
The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities has a job board that helps teachers and administrators find positions in Christian schools. Applicants are able to post resumes and schools can post job openings. They can also apply directly from the CCCU website.
CCCU Partnerships and Affiliates
Just as secular educational partnerships result in greater presence and opportunities, CCCU partnerships allow the member schools access to networking and information exchanges as well as alliances in advocacy and assistance in attaining its lofty educational goals. CCCU partners with
• American Council on Education
• Correctional Education Association
• Council of Independent Colleges
• Forum on Education Abroad
• International Council for Higher Education
• Evangelical Immigration Table
• Association of Business Administrators of Christian Colleges
• And others.
The Responsibilities of Membership
This article has referred several times to the cooperative nature of the CCU membership. Besides the already-mentioned requisites, just what is it that a school must do to remain in good standing with the organization? First, the schools must work to offer “comprehensive undergraduate curricula rooted in the arts and sciences.” The schools must be in good standing with a regional accrediting organization. They must feature “curricular and extracurricular” programs that integrate faith with scholarship and community. They must have Christian faculty. They also must maintain ethical use of finance and fundraising.
Although the school members of the organization must adhere to these requisites, it is important to remember that each college or university has a personality. There are many denominations represented in the schools as well as diverse locations and differing sizes. Students can depend upon a faith-based education from these member schools, but finding the “right” school depends upon researching these aspects as well.
Who Belongs to the CCCU?
The CCCU is headquartered in Washington, D.C. Their membership is made up of 181 Christian institutions, 121 of which are members located in North America, with the remaining 60 affiliate members located all around the world in 19 different countries, including Australia, Bolivia, Haiti, Japan and Uganda. All of the North American members are accredited colleges and universities who offer comprehensive studies in the arts and sciences to undergraduates. Not every religiously affiliated institution of higher learning belongs to the CCCU, but all of their member campuses are “intentionally” Christian. This means that all members who apply and are accepted into the CCCU must meet several criteria. Some of these include having a Christian mission statement, integrating Biblical faith into their scholarship, hiring Christian teachers and administrators and being financially accountable to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
What They Do
The CCCU is a fairly large organization whose employees and volunteers provide support services of all kinds to faculty, students and administrators in the Christian colleges and universities that make up their membership. The services they offer encompass a wide range of things from advisory work with college boards to input, assistance and development in communications, professional development and research, finance, administration and student programs.
For instance, they provide all kinds of services to faculty, such as networking grants to promote collaborative scholarship among teachers at different universities as well as scholarships for sabbatical retreats. They also provide interdisciplinary seminars and conferences that help faculty to stay updated on topics and pedagogy that will enhance the way they integrate Biblical faith with scholarship in the classroom. They also host a quadrennial International Forum on Christian Higher Education and an annual conference for the presidents of their member and affiliate colleges and universities.
Their student programs include “BestSemester,” which offers students 12 different opportunities for studying off-campus or even abroad for a semester of their college studies. These include what they term “culture-shaping” semesters at places like the Los Angeles Film Center, the Contemporary Music Center in Nashville and the American Studies Program in Washington, DC. They also include “culture-crossing” semesters which offer students the chance to study abroad in places as diverse as China, India, Costa Rica, Israel and Oxford, England.
If you are interested in attending or working at a Christian college or university that has this kind support as well as many opportunities for networking with other like-minded schools in the U.S. and around the world, it could be a good idea to look over the CCCU membership list. You can find it and much more information at the website of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
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