Last week a number of us attended the annual conference of the CCCU. In was really two successive joint conferences: the first for enrollment, marketing and advancement leaders, and the second for spiritual formation (campus pastors and chaplains), student life and academic leaders. The CCCU has, in round numbers, 120 members and 60 affiliates. All claim the identity as “Christ-centered” colleges or universities. They range from small colleges of 500 students, to large universities of 10,000. We are one of the larger in the group. Most are from the Midwest and further east; California members would be, for example, our old athletic conference, the GSAC—Biola, Azusa Pacific, Vanguard, Cal Baptist, Point Loma, Westmont and others. For those from the North and East, San Diego was a welcome relief from a long snowy winter.
We attend because the council is the one organization that supports and gathers us together around a common mission, and common challenges that we as Christ-centered universities face. We face different regional challenges and opportunities—in the Midwest and northeast declining student populations and in the West, California in particular, a huge state system of colleges and universities and very diverse populations. But we share several areas that require the experiences and creativity of many.
At the enrollment-marketing-communication meeting one of the main topics was how to tell our story and convey the unique experiences of our students. The emphasis was on stories—what graduates learn, what our faculty achieve and what kinds of lifelong change students experience. Enrollment, communication and advancement must work together to tell the story of FPU. In fact we need everyone to tell their story. If you have a story to tell—you probably do—tell it so that those who might want to join in this unique kind of education have the benefit of your experience.
The spiritual formation-student life-academic leaders focused on the integration of faith and learning in teaching, and Visions of Vocation, the title of a new book by Steve Garber (who grew up in Shafter), about the task of helping students understand where they feel called to serve, work, teach and learn. In the epilogue Garber tells the story of finding his lifelong vocation during his college years, which he has been pursuing ever since. This is what we hope for in our students. Garber’s address was impressive in its range of commentary—Vaclav Havel, Solzhenitsyn, Tiananmen Square and Walker Percy to name a few. I mention this because one of the false stories that circulates throughout our culture is that Christian higher education cannot compete intellectually. Ask our alumni who have gone on to graduate work in most of the UC campuses, Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke and many other leading research universities and you will hear about how well prepared they were.
The campus pastors discussed how student stories and their own can be used in the mentoring and spiritual growth of students. Our own University Pastor, Angulus Wilson, Ph.D., led one session, and with student life addressed the needs of our current generation of students, working with diverse populations and seeing the body of Christ mature and become more like what it is called to be. Our Assistant Dean of Multicultural Ministries, Dina Gonzalez-Piña, stayed a few extra days to lead a group to sites and people along the Mexican-U.S. border, speaking about immigration and the current environment that pits one group against another. The CCCU has taken up the work of diversity and the justice issues that we face as a country, and in the body of Christ.
A staple of these conferences is a discussion of legal issues. This one was no different. Every one of us feels the pressure of governmental regulation and reporting requirements. And one of the best parts, as always, is meeting again friends in our common work from across the country and Canada and being reminded that we face many of the same challenges, and can share how we have approached them. All have stories to tell about the life-changing mission of Christ-centered higher education.