(Continued from Part III)

A Future for Christian Higher Education, Part IV

Practically speaking, how can Christian higher education overcome its lower enrolments and decreased financial supports and continue to fulfil its leadership pipeline mandate in Canada?


Solutions: Christian higher education must adapt, collaborate, and secure new support.

There are many possible solutions to the Christian higher education crisis, but all of them need to own up to the commonplace perception of “how little my [Christian higher] education had actually prepared me for the day-in, day-out responsibilities of leading a church.”32 For Daniel O. Aleshire, former executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, the “next future” for seminary education will focus especially on “formational theological education” that will shape a student’s intellect and habitus and will “give particular attention to the education of ministers and priests who will serve as religious leaders and spiritual guides in an increasingly secular future.”33 For McMaster Divinity College president Stanley E. Porter, the future of seminary education in Canada depends on radical consolidation and amalgamation of seminaries.34 Kevin N. Flatt of Redeemer University College suggests three strategic priorities:

  1. maintain maximum autonomy from the state;
  2. ensure professors are deeply and authentically committed to the religious basis of their institutions; and
  3. cultivate a strong and secular-resistant support community outside the institution.35

Here, we suggest that to avert its crisis and to continue to fulfil its leadership pipeline mandate in Canada, Christian higher education must find practical solutions within individual institutions, across the sector, and from the broader Christian community at large. To succeed, Christian higher education must adapt, collaborate, and secure new support.

1. Adapting with place.

Maintaining a campus can be the least predictable institutional expense. When looking for adaptive efficiencies, a helpful analytic tool is the “Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create” grid in Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy.36 Using such a grid helped Horizon College & Seminary identify and eliminate seemingly entrenched campus features (and expenses), with the elimination of cafeteria and food services, replaced by self-serve kitchen, the elimination of campus ownership, replaced by lease and invested equity, and the elimination of residences, replaced by helping students locate private accommodations nearby.

Additional efficiencies related to place might include sharing space with like-minded organizations (Horizon leases office space to the Mennonite Brethren/Multiply, SK, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, SK, and to a Christian counsellor), consolidating with other educational institutions to operate from a single facility (the Anglican, Lutheran, and United Church seminaries in Saskatoon now all operate from one seminary), and leveraging technology to expand beyond set bricks-and-mortar place to live-stream courses to cohort hubs hosted in churches or elsewhere.

Horizon College & Seminary’s new leadership hub in Saskatoon, SK.

Horizon staff & faculty celebrate year’s end at The Berry Barn, May 2022.

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2. Adapting with people.

Personnel may be an institution’s greatest expense, but people are its most important asset. As one academic dean routinely reminded us, “the faculty are the curriculum.” Personnel efficiencies exist but to be truly efficient they must be executed in people-honouring ways. One efficiency is to identify what absolutely requires permanent, onsite employees and what might be outsourced. For permanent positions, ruthlessly hire employees who are uncompromisingly committed to institutional mission. Or, as Jim Collins puts it, first who… then what.37 Mission drives efficiency, so who is hired is more critical even than what someone is hired to do.

Also leverage the growing cadre of local gig economy workers for outsourceable work.38 This goes beyond adjunct faculty to include such people as I.T. support, cleaning, maintenance, and graphic design. Although gig workers cost more hourly, they are paid for service and not paid for unproductive downtime. But as much as possible, fully enfranchise gig workers in the orbit of the institution’s mission (mission drives efficiency!) by such things as paying them to attend staff meetings, inviting them to events like Christmas banquets, offsites, and graduations, gifting them institutional swag, and, crucially, by demonstrating genuine human care. People first is both strategic efficiency and is faithful to the way of Jesus.39

Besides using local gig workers, also explore sharing remote workers cross-institutionally. For example, Horizon has an on-site library technician but shares a senior librarian with an Edmonton school because the tasks (ordering books, writing policy) can be done remotely. Another possible shared position could be a registrar.40

3. Adapting with programs.

Shifting to the income side, Christian higher education needs to find efficient ways to catch the interests of a wider array of students by expanding program options without expanding expense.

One approach is a “multiply by subtraction” approach used by Horizon. Leveraging the 2+2- and 3+1-degree structure, Horizon subtracted one and two years from its three- and four-year degree programs to create a stable, core curriculum to which specialized studies might be added from outside the institution.

This subtraction enables a multiplication of possible degree options beyond anything Horizon could have capably sustained on its own. Horizon increased marketability by signing an MOU with a Polytechnic to identify clear pathways that could be accredited and branded with distinct, named degrees.41 Additionally, combining programs also address Christian parents’ and students’ preferences for public institutions by offering them the best of both worlds. The model also allows denominational institutions to expand denominationally-specific programming by creating space for different denominations easily to attach their distinctives to core curriculum. This model’s simple shape offers resiliency in that it mimics the pattern of many resilient systems that are “diverse at their edges but simple at their core.”42

More about Combined Programs

Looking to other expansion opportunities, one crucial people group thus far insufficiently served by Christian higher education is new Canadians. While overall Canadian church attendance and spiritual vitality are languishing, “Millennials born outside of Canada are considerably more conservative and devout in their faith and more likely than those born here to identify with a religion and attend services, as well as engage in private practices such as prayer, table grace, and Scripture reading.”43 Additional underserviced groups include leveraging technology to reach currently employed but undereducated clergy, global markets, and finding ways to educate in languages besides English.

To be continued…

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Dr Jeromey Martini ______________________
Dr. Jeromey Martini, President, Horizon College & Seminary and Professor of New Testament Studies

32 James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker, 2011), p. 14).

33 Daniel O. Aleshire, Beyond Profession: The Next Future of Theological Education (Eerdmans, 2021), p. 102.

34 Stanley E. Porter, “The Past, Present, and Future of Seminary Education in Canada” in Porter and Fawcett, Christian, esp. pp. 199-203.

35 Kevin N. Flatt, “Navigating Secularization: Implications of the History of Secularization for Christian Higher Education in Canada” in Porter and Fawcett, Christian, pp. 84-86.

36 See W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business School Press, 2005), pp. 35-37.

37 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Leap…and Others Don’t (Harper Business, 2001), esp. ch. 3. Much more difficult is Collins’s (correct) advice to get the wrong people off the bus. A helpful resource here is Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward (HarperCollins, 2011).

38 “[F]rom 2005 to 2016, the percentage of gig workers in Canada generally rose from 5.5% to 8.2%.” Sung-Hee Jeon, Huju Liu, and Yuri Ostrovsky. “Measuring the Gig Economy in Canada Using Administrative Data.” Statistics Canada (2019.12.20), at: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2019025-eng.htm.

39 Care of people is the underlying premise in Eduardo P. Braun’s exceptional book, People First Leadership: How the Best Leaders Use Culture and Emotion to Drive Unprecedented Results (McGraw Hill, 2017).

40 This was suggested recently at a gathering of leadership from five Pentecostal colleges.

41 See the so-called “Horizon Plus” programs here: www.horizon.edu/college/programs/plus/.

42 Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (Simon & Schuster), p. 11.

43 Reginald W. Bibby, Joel Thiessen, and Monetta Bailey, The Millennial Mosaic: How Pluralism and Choice Are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada (Dundurn, 2019), p. 182.

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