17 August, 2010

Grow and Thrive?

This recent cluster of articles from The Chronicle of Higher Education seems designed to make any faculty member or administrator at a small tuition-dependent college choke on her Captain Crunch at breakfast:

We may be tempted to scramble and see if a favorite institution is on the list. As I looked it over, a couple of simple observations came to mind:

1. There are a number of what we might describe as "prestigious" institutions on the list. This economy has clearly touched institutions that previously may have been considered "untouchable" by fluctuations in the economy.

2. Sadly, there are a number of Lutheran institutions on the list (Dana is now closed). It would be fascinating to analyze the stories of both those colleges on the list and those that have escaped that fate (so far). What variables, decisions, and serendipity combined to shape the stories of these institutions?

Another recent Chronicle article suggests that many believe a growth model is what will help small institutions endure in this changing world. Others recognize the danger of debt that makes such growth possible:

But as Dr. Bruss and others have so adeptly demonstrated, a clear confession of faith, a focused sense of purpose, and a persistent commitment to academic substance should trump the commercialism and marketing (and concomitant debt load) that tempt us in the contemporary academic arms race.

We're left with the challenge of determining how the small Lutheran college can remain small, faithful, and yet viable in a world in which many of the assumptions we have made about higher education are now untenable or unsustainable. This is the task that defines our time.


Matthias Flacius said...

We need wealthy donors who believe in the mission.

It's really that simple.

How's Patrick Henry College doing?

Anonymous said...

Well, PHC didn't didn't make the list, but Concordia Seminary St. Louis did. So did Concordia Ann Arbor, Concordia River Forest (er..Chicago), Concordia California, and Concordia Alabama (that's from memory, so apologies if there's a mistake).
I'm just glad (and surprised) to see Aquinas College, where I teach, didn't make the list!

Bethany Kilcrease

Steve Gehrke said...

Hmm, Concordia Seminary-St Louis was singled out for mention as a financially fragile institution.

Jon Bruss said...

Yes, the list of Mo-Syn schools is long and really problematic. I suspect that this part and parcel of...well, I suspect that there's a great deal going on here, actually. But part of this has to be linked to the growing disaffection that has occurred in the synod over the last 20 years, which in turn has to do with figuratively and literally not only not being on the same page in the hymn book, but not even using the same hymn book.

In terms of the institutions themselves, and here I'm thinking of the colleges/universities in particular: put yourself in the shoes of your average Mo-Syn. parishioner who wants a higher education for his or her daughter and then ask yourself why you would send your kid to a CU school instead of any number of other choices. I'm not trying to be snide or mean here. But I think we, as synod, have to face up to the two-fold reality that has been created in the Lutheran colleges: (a) a panoply of not-so-great programs (meant to compete with Local State U); and (b) a concomitant erosion of the theological and humanistic core.

Not to always come back to the same point (well, actually, quite the opposite: precisely to come back to the same point): the road to recovery has to be located within in re-appropriation of the spiritual, theological, cultural and intellectual heart of confessional/classical Lutheranism. Everything must be not be merely tangentially connected, but firmly anchored in that core. That's what Lutherans do excellently. Let's do it!

As for CSSL, Meyer inherited a whole lot of baggage and has already done quite a bit to clean up the books. But apparently there's still some way to go. Again, it is not, I think, coincidental that the synod's identity has been thrown into a flux, and hence also the commitment on the part of parishioners and parishes to support synodical-level seminary education.

Sean L. Rippy said...

I think Bruss is right on. I've often said whether it's Lutheran colleges, grade schools/high schools, or even worship services- why would a Lutheran send their children/attend a school/service that isn't Lutheran and why in the world would anyone else send/attend one that isn't more compatible with their own denomination?

I have several Lutheran grade schools in my area I refuse to send my children to because they aren't Lutheran- they don't even bother hiring Lutheran school teachers. And now that our area is proliferating with nondenom. schools, the once mighty Lutheran schools in this area are suffering.

In my opinion the compromises our schools and churches have made to open ourselves up to the conservative evangelicals (methodibaptcostal?) was a short term gain, long term loss- or to use classical terminology a phyric victory.

Rev. Sean Rippy

Rev. Sean L. Rippy said...

That's "pyrrhic" for those who are keeping track :(


Jon Bruss said...