It has been said that the quality of an education is the direct result of the quality of the faculty. I happen to agree with this statement. Quality, simply put, is excellence, and I have sought to demonstrate excellence in my own teaching. I have also spent the greater part of my professional career dedicated to developing faculty for excellence.
I am deeply committed to cultivating excellence in others and I am especially motivated to doing so in my role as the Senior Director of the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University of Southern California, considering the opportunities and challenges Christian institutions like Vanguard face today.
That stated, I will touch on several present realities in the higher education landscape that impact Christian colleges and universities and that underscore the need for a renewed commitment to faculty development leading to academic excellence.
Christian higher education, like most liberal arts institutions in American higher education, seeks to educate students broadly in the arts and sciences, as well as the professions. Christian higher education also seeks to form students spiritually, teach for character and virtue, and to do so in a manner that leads to the transformation of the mind and heart while also instilling in students a love for learning that lasts a lifetime.
This kind of education requires faculty members to not only be masters of their subject areas and teaching methodology, it also requires them to provide instruction that integrates faith with learning, engages students at deep levels, and models the Christian faith, while being confident in their God-given calling to teach.
As a result, faculty development in the Christian setting must prepare faculty broadly with a view to achieving excellence in each of their professional roles, whether it is course preparation, pedagogy, mentoring, or faith integration.
Competition and Choice
Colleges and universities are competing for students, faculty, and financial resources. Institutions with large endowments are able to offer generous financial aid packages in order to attract top students, while also attracting talented faculty with generous pay and benefits packages. Further, schools are innovating in content and delivery in order to maintain an advantage in the number and kinds of academic programs they offer over the competition.
Conversely, students ultimately choose where they go to school, and one of the strengths of American higher education is its variety and options for students. Students can choose to attend a two- or four-year public, private, or for profit institution. Students can also choose to attend a Christian college or university for its commitment to broad preparation.
However, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2016-2017 Almanac, the number one “very important” reason why over two-thirds of the Fall 2015 Freshmen class chose their particular college was because of its “very good” academic reputation. Not surprisingly, as colleges and universities seek to distinguish themselves in a highly competitive industry, in the final analysis, it is the quality of the education that sets an institution apart for many students, followed by the college’s graduates getting good jobs and the financial aid packages it is able to offer.
Again, the quality of an education is the direct result of the quality of the faculty and academic reputation is an outgrowth of both talent and robust faculty development efforts.
Student Diversity and Success
The increase in student diversity nationally has subsequently led to a record number of students from historically underrepresented groups on our Christian campuses. According to 2014 IPEDS data, the proportion of non-white students in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has increased from 18% in 2004 to 28% in 2014.
Additionally, Vanguard has one of the most diverse student bodies in the CCCU at 47.32%. Further, VU is one of three Hispanic Serving Institutions in the CCCU and has the highest percentage of Hispanic students in the Southern California region at 38%, according to information I was able to obtain from individual school websites for Fall 2015.
Finally, there has been a steady increase in the number of low income students from all cultural backgrounds who are the first in their families to attend a college or university. In numerous cases, these students need to work to make ends meet and they must be intentional to seek out the kinds of academic support they need to succeed. The challenges associated with teaching to an increasingly diverse student population are real.
However, there are also embedded opportunities to develop the faculty in new and exciting ways such as in the areas of culturally responsive pedagogy, faith integration from a multicultural perspective, and to partner with staff in other branches of the campus for the sake of supporting students and to see them persist until graduation.
The Heart of the Educational Mission
Christian colleges and universities need faculty development today more than ever. And, since teaching and learning are at the heart of the educational mission, institutions will be wise to invest substantially in this area and to remain intentional to develop excellent faculty for the benefit of all students.