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Monday, April 27, 2020

Scholarships Like Candy

Ozark Christian College, located in Joplin, Missouri and affiliated with the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, has a time-tested approach to attracting students. They hand out scholarships like candy. While I've written recently about the troubles private non-profit colleges and universities are facing and the measures they've taken to survive, the OCC strategy is nothing new.

When I was a camp missionary in southern Missouri the summer of 2000 I got a lesson in how 'Christian Service Camps' run. Essentially, these Stone-Campbell movement camps exist to convert young people, retain them in the church, and shuttle them off to college and ministry. This latter applies most to the senior high camp sessions, when youth are thinking about what to do after high school. At the awards ceremony the last day of camp that year I saw 'scholarships' being handed out from Saint Louis Christian College and Ozark Christian College for things like 'Most Improved Camper,' 'Best Attitude,' and so on. My memory is fuzzy, but I seem to remember that while the SLCC scholarships were for dollar amounts, OCC was offering 100% tuition on a semester by semester basis. One young lady had received so many awards through her high school camper years that she had earned a year and a half of basically 'free' education. After the ceremony someone commented "I guess you know where you're going to college," to which she replied, "I guess so."

That's the point. These scholarships are really discounts, and someone receiving them can be left feeling like if they don't go to that college, they'll be leaving money on the table. Looking at it another way, going somewhere else to college would be an unnecessary expense. From what I learned after that week at camp, this has been a common practice among Bible colleges for decades. OCC seems particularly aggressive about it. I also know that they are still offering such scholarships, because aside from the ad included here for a $1000 scholarship just for applying, I know someone who got a scholarship this year simply for attending a college tour.

Nothing truly nefarious is going on here. The intention of the people in churches, at camps, and at the college is to do good in the world, as they understand it, and help people have meaningful lives. And, of course, not go to hell when they die. The scholarships are most certainly donor funded, and serve to draw people in to study for some type of ministry. At the same time, as I discussed in my post about the closure of Nebraska Christian College, Bible colleges offer an incomplete education. It isn't really a liberal arts course, nor is any genuine science involved. Belief in the Bible as completely factual is upheld, higher critical study is excluded and vilified, independent thought is limited (at least if you want a decent grade), and things such as Creationism are promoted. It seems a waste of a good Pell Grant to work for a Bachelor's from such a school. Even if a 'Christian' education is preferred, there are better options to choose from that meet academic and faculty standards for full regional accreditation, offering liberal arts and science courses alongside theology and ministry.

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