Reading about The Master’s University and Seminary under probation by its accrediting institution led me to raise an eyebrow at the most important point not being addressed in all of it.
Readers who may be suspicious of anti-MacArthur or theological bias on my part may be set at ease: I openly admit those biases, but this is not focused on him. This scandal involves most Christian institutions of higher learning.
The recent article from Christian Post makes JMac look like a control freak and a cult leader. This may possibly be true, but it is not the point. Likewise, JMac’s sermon to his student body sounds gratuitous, but if even some of his statements are even partially true, the instigators of this accreditation review are hardly in earnest. My suspicion is that there is blame and political nonsense on both sides. But again, this is not the point.
The point is, if Master’s is as big and powerful as its adversaries say it is, and if it is as blessed, great, and prosperous as JMac says it is, why in the world would the school fight so hard to keep its accreditation from a secular agency to begin with? Why does it need it? Why can it not just stand on its own merits?
This is where it is not just about JMac or Master’s; it is about all Christian institutions of higher learning. Why is this so important to begin with?
I can tell you, they know why, but do you? Is this about oversight, standards, or quality of education or anything like that? Only on the surface. The real reason is this one thing:
Federal Student Aid.
A close second reason is this: State Student Aid.
There is only one reason any such institution even gives two cents for “accreditation” from such organizations to begin with: to qualify for federal student aid programs. Christian institutions are just as guilty if not more so.
If it were not for students dependent on federally-subsidized loans, the enrollment in such institutions would drop by 80 percent. The school would then downsize or close.
When students go looking for institutions to attend, especially seminaries, one of the first questions they ask is, “Is this seminary/university accredited?” Why do they ask this?
In order to qualify for federally- or state-backed student loans, the institution they plan to attend must be approved. Approval from the government requires the program to be in an institution accredited by an approved accrediting agency.
But why is this so important, really? Who needs student aid, after all?
Since few people have $30,000/year in cash laid aside for college education, most students know they are going to borrow the money. A few get grants or scholarships, but most borrow the money.
Problem: they are going for a degree in a private Christian Liberal Arts School. Or for Biblical Counseling? Or elementary ed? Or worse: any of a diverse range of degrees in “Leadership,” or the like; or even worse, degrees in quasi-liberal women’s studies, etc.? What are any of these degrees worth on the real-world market?
Some may lead to decent paying jobs, true. I am not denying that is possible, even with the worst of these degrees. But what sane, lending institution in the real world, dealing with general market forces and principles, would ever loan an 18-year old kid $120,000 for such an education? On what, a 30-year note? At a low interest rate? To a student, with no experience, and no guaranteed job, not even a real prospect at the time of writing the note? You know the answer.
Somewhere along the line, the government decided it would help the poor (originally it was war veterans—it always starts with war veterans) with higher education. This quickly morphed into the agenda that everyone needs a college degree. Billions upon billions of dollars in loans are now guaranteed by the government. Tons of institutions, including private Christian institutions, are now dependent upon tons of revenue streaming in that would not be streaming in were it not for federal loan insurance subsidy. And with this stream of revenue they are churning out reams otherwise unmarketable degrees.
Some of these institutions would have died out long ago were it not for this subsidy. Some are leveraging it and getting fat and happy, for the time being. All are nevertheless dependent upon it to maintain operations now.
All of them ought to be ashamed, but especially the conservative ones like MacArthur’s group and others who decry “Socialism” when the left does it. Let’s be clear: federal loan guarantees are in fact socialism, and every one of these institutions has their nose in the trough—their hands in their neighbors’ pockets.
If we did the ethical Christian thing, the free market thing, and the long-term responsible thing, we would cut the Federal and State Aid programs. This would cut out 80 percent of enrollees up front. Scores if not hundreds of private colleges and universities would close, including a few seminaries. Thousands of professors would have to get other jobs. Millions of students would have to find private sources of funding to attend college, and also pick a degree that actually had some financial future, or else forego college and work a trade or other job.
There are many other ramifications we could discuss, too. Without the government interference, quality in educational institutions would go up, the real career-oriented nature of degrees and program-tracks would improve, and over time, competition would bring the cost down.
We could also dispense with these bureaucratic and half-statist accrediting agencies altogether. Private Christian universities and seminaries would stand or fall on their own merits. They would set their own standards, but would also have to meet real-market pressures and demand.
Churches or denominations that really demand their ministers have an M.Div. degree would fund it privately, and possibly find an alternative to the distant institutional model of seminary to begin with.
But, for the most part, we don’t do these things. Because we don’t do them, we are not free, and our conservative Christian educational ministries are subject to the regulatory whim, and passions, of liberal bureaucrats.
Worse, we have to own up to the fact that we steal from our neighbors through socialistic policies.
And why do we continue to bear such a sad testimony for our Lord? Why so unprincipled on such an obvious sell-out?
Federal Student Aid.
Perhaps in another article we can examine the psychology, the fallen human nature, involved in making such unfaithful decisions, then rationalizing them, on the part of students, parents, and the leadership alike. Whereas this ought to be an easy decision—don’t’ take the cheese and stay out of the trap—there is some kind of concert of lusts that lead us right into it.
A good start would be at least to acknowledge the problems. Then we can let Christian ethics lead us from there.