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Heartland College: A Revolution in College Education

By Edwin Myers
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #33, 2000.

The college we can start ourselves.
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Edwin Myers

Acquiring a values-centered, effective, affordable college education is one of the most pressing challenges facing Christian young people and their families. The typical college environment is divergent from or even hostile to Christian faith and lifestyle. The college experience can lead away from church involvement and a family-oriented outlook. College costs place a substantial burden on many families.

There are also concerns about the very institutional structure of college. Most colleges are built on a residence college concept, in which the college provides not only academic training, but also room and board, recreation, entertainment, a social calendar, health services, cultural and sporting events, and so on. Such a comprehensive suite of facilities, activities, and services adds greatly to the cost of college. This approach often entails duplication of facilities, activities, and services already available in the community. And finally there is the question of whether the age-segregation of young people for four years amidst a smorgasbord of recreation and entertainment, for the ostensible purpose of learning, is likely to result in maturity, responsibility, and a capacity for selfless commitment.

Sadly, these shortcomings characterize not only most public colleges, but most private colleges, even Christian private colleges, as well. There is an urgent need for a new approach, a new option offering benefits for students and their families, churches, and communities. Students and families need socially and spiritually beneficial higher education that is effective, affordable, and accessible. Churches need opportunities to make relevant contributions to the lives of young adults, so as to retain their active fellowship and Christian service. Communities need to retain and cultivate local talent and opportunity in order to reap the ensuing social and economic benefits.

To meet these needs, we must develop a means of providing higher education which is affordable - no more expensive than a public university. The education so provided must be worthwhile - building character, intellect, citizenship, and marketable skills. This education must be accessible - available at the community level. And finally, this education should afford students opportunities for social interaction and friendship in a context of Christian standards.

Is it possible to create a college, or rather, a delivery system for college education, that is at once affordable, worthwhile, accessible, and socially beneficial? The answer is, "Yes." Let us call this college concept "Heartland College."

The Heartland College Solution

Heartland College embodies a radical departure from the traditional residence college idea. Heartland College does not need its own campus. It need not own nor maintain classroom buildings, stadiums, concert halls, dormitories, and so on. Heartland College needs few full-time faculty and little or no staff for building and grounds maintenance, food service, health service, etc. Consequently, Heartland College can offer private, Christian higher education at tuition rates comparable to those of public universities.

Precisely what, then, is Heartland College? Heartland College is a Christian service agency based on the premise that within churches and the larger Christian community there exist already the facilities and personnel necessary to provide college-level training in a variety of fields. As an agency which is structurally independent of but relationally accountable to participating churches and Christian businesses, Heartland College harnesses existing resources to make available a locally-based college program for the youth of participating churches.

In this alliance, homes provide the students, along with room, board, and personal, financial, and social support for the students. Cooperating churches serve as a resource base from which many instructional facilities and personnel are drawn, and in which many applied learning and internship arrangements and student social opportunities are provided. The larger Christian community serves as a source of experts-mentors-teachers, specialized business and training resources, applied learning and internship arrangements, as well as social and career opportunities.

What Heartland College Would Do

Within the church and Christian community, Heartland College would identify those facilities and people with the availability and capability to help provide college-level academic and career training. The College would find facilities for classroom, office, and lab space, and locate teachers, professionals, and tradespeople with both teaching skills and real-world expertise. Some existing private instructional programs (aviation, computers, etc.) could also be integrated into Heartland's program.

Next, Heartland College would select and develop courses and degree programs in those fields for which the resource personnel and facilities in our area can provide adequate support.

Heartland College would then coordinate and manage participating resources to deliver a well-planned, well-executed program in each field for which a degree is offered.

Finally, Heartland College would facilitate the success of its students and graduates by providing record-keeping, counseling and advising, and career-placement services.

A Specific Example

To appreciate how the activities just outlined would be applied to a particular degree program, consider the field of music. Here in South-Central Kansas, there are many evangelical churches with multi-faceted music programs for worship and ministry. Many church music directors in our areas are knowledgeable musicians with the qualifications and experience to teach in a college-level music program (indeed, some do so already). In short, we have a musical resource base adequate for a complete undergraduate music program in terms of teaching staff, vocal and instrumental ensembles, performance facilities, internship opportunities, and so on.

Implementing an undergraduate music degree program through Heartland College would involve laying out a complete course sequence including appropriate units of music theory, ear training, music literature and history, counterpoint, conducting, keyboard proficiency, ensemble participation, recital, private lessons, and other areas appropriate to various musical specialties. Teaching staff would be assembled by means of interviewing, selecting, and retaining a number of adjunct teachers drawn from the ranks of area Christian music directors, teachers, composers, and performing artists. Classes and rehearsals would be held in the facilities of one or more churches from among the network of Heartland College participating churches. With careful cultivation and cooperation, Heartland College's music program would soon rival those of traditional colleges, providing a well-rounded education in all forms of traditional musical expression.

Other Possibilities

An appropriate way to think of how you could set up a Heartland College in your area is to identify the economic, business, technological, and artistic strengths of your area and consider how elements of these areas of endeavor might be focused on the goal of training the next generation. With time and creative effort, a number of Heartland College majors could be developed, such as:

  • Agricultural Science / Livestock Science
  • Advertising / Marketing / Business Administration
  • Accounting
  • Audio-Visual Engineering
  • Aviation Science
  • Bible
  • Broadcasting
  • Commercial Art
  • Computer Science and Systems Administration
  • Construction Science / Electrical Science
  • Document Technology
  • Facilities Management
  • Health and Nutrition
  • Horticulture and Landscape Science
  • Pre-Law
  • Psychology and Counseling

and others.

Heartland College Distinctives

Just as the non-traditional structure of Heartland College is distinctive, so would be a number of features of its academic program. We have hinted already at the possibility of internships as a distinctive feature of Heartland's degree program. Such internships, and the experience and references they can provide, would be natural for Heartland because of its very essence as a home/

church/Christian community alliance. In music, for example, senior students might serve internships as choir directors, accompanists, and so on. Such arrangements can easily be envisioned for many other major fields. Clearly, these opportunities would give Heartland graduates a "leg up" on their traditionally educated counterparts.

Another distinctive of Heartland College would flow from its required freshman-sophomore general studies sequence. In particular, several areas of deficiency in most college programs would be treated adequately at Heartland. These areas include: command of the grammatical mechanics and expressive usage of the English language; career choice, career path, work environment, and authority structures in business and industry; law and its impact on the citizen; and citizen participation in the governmental and political process. A Heartland College education would also include a clear, consistent application of the biblical worldview to culture, society, and lifestyle, and an informed, critical awareness of non-Christian worldviews. With this in mind, the general studies requirements might be as follows:

An additional Heartland College distinctive should be mentioned as well. This is the required College Colloquium, a four-semester sequence worth a total of four semester hours of credit. The College Colloquium would consist of a series of cultural and informational events and mini-conferences scheduled throughout the school year, which would provide social opportunities for Heartland students in the context of worthy intellectual enrichment. Events might include speakers of national prominence, appropriate conferences sponsored by area churches, service projects, and so on.

How Heartland College Would Operate

Heartland College would likely operate as a non-profit educational institution to serve the membership of participating churches. Most classroom instruction would take place in educational facilities of participating churches. The College would operate under conservative, interdenominational doctrinal standards. Formal and practical adherence to these standards would be required of administrative and teaching staff, both full-time and adjunct.

Governance of the College would be vested in a suitably constituted Board of Regents or Directors. Execution of the policies of the Board and ongoing operation of the College would be the responsibility of the College President assisted by the Vice President (both full-time paid officials) and other administrative and support staff as warranted by college growth. The academic programs and standards of the College would be developed by the President and Vice President with the participation of qualified advisory committees in various fields of study selected by the administration with the concurrence of the Board.

Heartland College would collect and disburse funds, purchase and/or lease equipment, hire and pay personnel, and confer diplomas and degrees pursuant to its programs. Heartland College would presumably be recognized by religious, educational, and business entities as appropriate.

One item deserving attention is that, initially at least, Heartland College would not be accredited by any college accrediting agency. Indeed, because of the innovative nature of Heartland College and its program, it is unclear whether traditional accrediting criteria would be applicable or appropriate. For students starting out at Heartland but finishing at another college, a potential difficulty would then be the transferability of credits to other colleges.

This difficulty could be largely alleviated by offering College Level Examination Program tests wherever appropriate in Heartland's general studies sequence, since credit for CLEP exams is granted by colleges nationwide. Similarly, graduating Heartland seniors planning postgraduate studies could take the Graduate Record Examination to facilitate admission to graduate school.

In most cases, accreditation status should have minimal effect on the hireability of Heartland College graduates. In fact, with internship experience and accompanying contacts, Heartland graduates may well have enhanced employment opportunities. Ultimately, the credentials of Heartland College will be established by the quality of its graduates. As long as government regulation of labor, employment, business, and education does not become too onerous, Heartland College graduates should find open doors in the employment marketplace.


It goes without saying that launching and operating Heartland College will require funding. Initial legal work, incorporation, and other startup expenses are estimated at $8,500. For a very modestly salaried administrative staff of President, Vice President, and an office secretary, plus budget for insurance, materials, printing, postage, travel, utilities, space rental, and equipment leasing, overhead is estimated at about $138,000 per year, plus adjunct faculty salaries. Of this amount, amount, perhaps $24,000 per year could be provided in the form of rent-free office space, etc.

Let us adopt the conservative assumption that all $138,000 of annual overhead should be raised from student tuition and fees. (Such an arrangement ensures maximum accountability of the College to its constituents.) We will assume that the average class size of 16 to 17 students, that adjunct teaching faculty are paid $625 per semester credit hour of teaching, and that most test grading is automated. Finally, we will assume that tuition at Heartland College is $80 per semester credit hour, which is about equal to that at public four-year colleges in Kansas.

Using these assumptions, we find that Heartland College can pay its entire annual overhead and all teachers' salaries if it delivers at least 3250 semester credit hours of education per year. This break-even point occurs when there are the equivalent of 135 students taking an average of 12 credit hours per semester. Tax-deductible gifts would lower the break-even point. Heartland College thus appears financially viable even with modest enrollment.

For Such a Time as This

To bring Heartland College from the abstract to the actual requires prompt and continuing effort. A core of committed individuals must provide for the College's incorporation and continue to serve on its board. Initial donated funding must be obtained to enable the hiring of the first administrative officer(s) and secretarial staff person.

If the administration is put in place expeditiously, a pilot program of courses could be offered as early as Fall, 2000. This pilot program might offer Career and Society 1, Worldview and Culture 1, Western Civilization 1, College Colloquium, Usage and Writing 1, and perhaps College Choir. Such a program might well attract not only college freshmen but also high school seniors who desire a solid grounding in the Christian worldview or a clearer picture of their occupational aptitudes and the specifics of various careers. If such students find these courses worthwhile, they may choose to continue their college training at Heartland. Continued development of programs and courses during the 2000-2001 school year would assure a significantly expanded program in the fall of 2001.

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