College navigates challenges of current realities

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Columbia Bible College AGM and fundraising banquet report

ABBOTSFORD, B.C.

For some years, post-secondary institutions have been grappling with accelerated change. Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., knows the issues well, has introduced many initiatives, and is planning a range of further measures to meet new financial and student realities.

Delegates to CBC’s annual general meeting Oct. 10 heard that Canada’s post-secondary students operate in a different environment from that of earlier generations. Faced with higher costs and timetabling challenges in tightly budgeted institutions, students (and their parents) commonly want courses focused on future employment, and seek to complete prerequisites for public institutions.

Challenges compounding

And costs keep rising, leaving students with a heavy debt and college administrators with budget challenges. For Canada’s Christian colleges and their students, there is another element: preservation of their spiritual vision and purposes.

For years, Columbia has worked to foster an on-campus community of Christ followers, with emphasis on biblical studies, residential living, friendships, and Christian mentoring. But the modern reality is that less than half of Columbia’s students can afford the traditional model. Sixty-five percent of CBC’s 2013–14 student body now lives off campus.

CBC president Bryan Born said today’s CBC students look for a rounded mix of Biblical studies and career education. They look for course credits that can be transferred to other institutions like University of the Fraser Valley or Trinity Western University. Online studies are commonplace for many post-secondary students who need to qualify for career programs in university or the trades.

College expands offerings

Born told the annual meeting CBC is actively working to expand credit-transferability, building on the successes of CBC transfer programs already in place. The college is also formulating a program minor in business and leadership basics. “We want to provide real-world skills to our students,” he said, “whether entering full-time Christian ministry or pursuing other vocations.”

CBC can provide faith-based perspectives on business and management practices, the helping professions, and other career paths, said Born. Running parallel to the new issues is a set of established programs graduating students in pastoral ministries, cross-cultural mission, youth work, counselling, outdoor leadership, and worship arts.

Doug Berg, academic dean, said CBC wants to be an online provider to students. His research is showing that a distance education component need not hinder spiritual formation or other Bible College values. “If your program is intentional, and combined with some ‘face-to-face’ components, he said, a hybrid education can be very effective.”

Distance education can meet needs of current students and expand CBC’s pool of potential students to people currently unable to attend a full course on campus.

Finances geared to realities

CBC college administrator Scott Henderson said 2012–13 was a “trying” budgetary year, but Columbia emerged with a slight surplus – and with a wide range of priorities designed to increase income and adopt new efficiencies.

Born emphasized the financial measures and new programming are geared to adapt to students’ realities while strengthening the vision to follow Columbia’s mission to “equip people for a life of discipleship, ministry and leadership in service to the church and community.”

One of the new initiatives found reflection at CBC’s annual banquet Oct. 26. Guests were asked to consider donations to help make the privately-funded college tuition more affordable for students. (Government-subsidized post-secondary institutions can offer lower tuitions.) The banquet drew about 275 supporters and raised $117,500 to help “narrow the financial gap” for students.

—Barrie McMaster, B.C. correspondent

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