Colleges are so important. And their importance is not just found within the aspect of learning. After working in the field of higher education for the past thirteen years I am convinced of the these institution's value within society. We live in an age where old institutions are being disrupted by new technology. And there are some who predict the demise of the college as a geographical location where students learn. These prophets suggest that learning will eventually happen all online and that the online classroom will replace the brick and mortar classroom. But those who make these predictions fail to realize that college is more than just a place for learning. These institutions serve five other purposes.
Colleges are a Clearinghouse for Talent
The brick and mortar college is a gathering place for gifted students; students with vision. They declare majors and clump with students that share their interests. Peers are in the trenches together, working their way through exams, research papers and labs. And at the end of the day these students are launched back out into society to be productive and the leaders of the next generation.
There is something special about gathering young gifted people in a single geographic location. It has always reminded me of the cord blood that is saved from a newborn baby's umbilical cord. In the same way that that blood contains the rich potential for future healing, these young lives are success stories in an embryonic form. They are gathered together in one place and then distributed around the world as productive and creative leaders.
The college campus serves as a testing ground. Students are evaluated as they do their coursework. They have opportunities to collaborate and lead. The gifted are identified as they go through the academic process. At the end of the day these campuses are like distribution centers that help distribute these students into the workplace and ministry.
Colleges Provide Accountability
Colleges or college departments are often connected with specialized fields. The professors should be experts in a given field and ought to be tacticians with past experience in their field. The connection between new research in the institution and active fields where the new research is applied implies that their is accountability. When a student does their research and produce their finds in a paper, those findings are then scrutinized by professors and peers. This is what we call peer review. It implies that the new thought leadership produced by the college has gone through an accountability process.
This accountability process lends itself to trust. The work can be trusted because it has gone through the accountability process. This is important for the church. The local church has various winds blow through that are new ideas. There are different philosophers that want to have the stage to espouse their theory on the second resurrection, or the implications of Paul's Christology. The college institution helps the local church to know who they ought to give more credence to. The philosopher that has gone through an institutions research process and has been peer reviewed ought to have more weight than the crack pot theoretician from down the street.
Some seminaries have earned the trust of a denomination. And the churches in that denomination are able to trust the material produced by the seminary because they trust the accountability process in place at that academic institution.
Colleges are a Gathering Place for Scholars
Higher education institutions are also of great value because they become the gathering place for scholars. This has been the case for the church since the second century. The schools of Alexandria and Antioch were more gathering places for the theologians than they were organized learning centers for pastors. And this is valuable when heresies crop up. Colleges and seminaries can rise to the occasion and critic a new heresy and provide society with the ammunition needed to oppose what is false.
This is tied in with the idea of accountability, but it also leads into the idea of collaboration. With these scholars gathered in one geographic location, it is much easier to develop new ideas and think through what has been proposed. These higher institutions serve as the "connector" of scholars and this is a highly valuable role within our new world.
Colleges Are the Grounds for Collaboration
Just a quick glance at some of the companies that have emerged over the past 40 years reveals how valuable the collaboration can be at these colleges. Apple, Facebook, PayPal are just a few tech companies that were developed through college collaboration. But there are many new church plants that are based on the collaboration that took place during college. There are new bands that have developed out of the collaboration that took place at college. This ties in with the idea of the clearinghouse. Colleges connect young people together and create a synergy for new ideas.
Colleges are a Meeting Place for Spouses
If the brick and mortar colleges of today want to remain relevant they will need to harness these five byproducts. They will want to capitalize on these strengths. There are some colleges that are already doing this and these are the ones that will succeed.