Sinning to Survive: Evangelical Colleges Cheat to Live

Maybe it’s legal, but it sure isn’t ethical. Just like mainstream universities, evangelical ones have engaged in morally dicey practices in order to keep the tuition dollars rolling in. Should they be held to a higher standard?liberty phd online

Here’s what we know: Inside Higher Ed reported this morning on the complicated legal settlements made recently by Oral Roberts University and North Greenville University. The details are confusing, but in short, both ORU and NGU paid big bucks–$300,000 and $2.5 million, respectively—to settle accusations that they had broken the law.

Both schools are accused of contracting with a now-defunct company to recruit students. Apparently, universities aren’t allowed to offer companies a percentage of the “take” for that kind of recruiting if the students are eligible for federal loans. The law makes sense: The feds worry about “predatory” institutions chasing after federal loan dollars, leaving hapless students with big debt.

Meanwhile, what Liberty University is doing might not be illegal, to me it seems just as troubling. Recently the evangelical behemoth has been advertising a program that will leave students unemployable. The program in question is a fully online History PhD. Liberty promises that the program will help students land jobs. As they advertise (emphasis added by me),

Are you interested in a career in education, research, politics, archaeology, or management of national landmarks or museums? Whatever your history-related career goals are, Liberty University’s Ph.D. in History can provide the theoretical background, research and writing abilities, and experience you’ll need to excel in either academic or nonacademic career fields related to humanities or social sciences.

When you complete your doctorate in history, you’ll be prepared to pursue a variety of career opportunities. You might join the world of academia as a professor, professional researcher, or academic publisher or editor. Or you could pursue a position as a museum curator, international development specialist, author, archaeologist, or federal government employee.

Academics and many other career fields need people like you who are knowledgeable about the undercurrents, culture, and societal standards surrounding historical events. Prepare to excel in whichever career field you choose when you pursue our doctoral degree in history.

I don’t think there’s anything illegal about this sort of thing, but it does strike me as deeply misleading. The academic job market for history PhDs has not been strong since the late 1960s and these days it is positively dismal.Advertised-Job-Openings-Compared-to-the-Number-of-New-History-PhDsIn general, the very few jobs that are available in history departments have go to candidates with impeccable credentials. I have a hard time imagining that any history department would be willing to hire a candidate who had completed a fully online PhD program. In short, I do not think it is ethical for Liberty to tell people that they “might join the world of academia as a professor.”

I understand that the Liberty advertisement hedges its promises by talking about a “variety of career opportunities.” As do other desperate history programs who offer non-academic career advice, Liberty can fall back on its language about non-academic career paths as proof of its good intentions. I don’t think that’s enough. Even non-academic jobs for history PhDs are ferociously competitive and a candidate with an online degree will not be able to cut the mustard.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why these evangelical schools make these sorts of insincere promises and shady deals. From the perspective of the recruiters’ offices, the prospect for the entire field of American higher education is scary and getting worse. There are fewer and fewer college-going young people and by 2025 the number will have dwindled even more.

Schools are closing and combining. Evangelical colleges have not been safe from this trend, as a recent shake-up at Gordon College attests. Nevertheless, I think it is fair to demand more than simple law-following from leaders of evangelical institutions. Bending the truth to get students in the door is something no one should tolerate, least of all people who want colleges to hold up the high ethical values of evangelical Christianity.

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5 Comments

  1. Agellius

     /  June 6, 2019

    Fewer and fewer college-going young people? That’s odd. The colleges that both my sons went to have had steady enrollment increases for the past 10 years or more; record-setting graduating classes every year and so forth; building new dorms. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just surprised.

    Reply
  2. LisaM

     /  June 6, 2019

    I think college enrollment has hit it’s peak. The kids who are entering college now are “recession kids”. Their parents were hit hard and weren’t able to save as much leaving kids strapped with huge loan debt and less opportunity for high paying jobs and careers upon graduation. Kids don’t wish to be strapped with this debt before they are even able to enjoy adulthood. I could be wrong?

    Reply
    • The demographic trends support it. Some universities, such as big state flagship schools such as Wisconsin and Michigan will continue to do well, as will elite schools such as Stanford and MIT. But most schools will have a hard time coping with the coming drop in college-age humans. There will simply be fewer people attending college in the next ten years, and institutions that depend on tuition dollars to survive will have to figure out new ways to cope.

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  June 6, 2019

        I agree that the demographic trends support it. But at the same time you have the ubiquitous idea now that every kid should go to college, which is what I think has been supporting the recent steady increases in enrollment. One of my sons went to a state flagship school, while the other went to a small, religious liberal arts school, but both of them were members of record graduating classes. Both graduated within the past four years. That being said, I won’t be surprised to see enrollments drop eventually due to the simple fact of fewer kids existing.

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