The growing interest in the Christian junior college movement finds its basic explanation in the growing need for Christian higher education. To discuss this need is our aim in this article.
That there is such need is being questioned by no one. The issue that has come up for debate recently is whether or not Christian junior colleges are the solution to our problem. There are many angles to this discussion and we hope to address ourselves to the more important ones in a later issue. It is our present assumption that the Christian junior college is the real solution to our most pressing needs and, that this is true, we hope will become apparent as we analyze those needs. Whatever arguments are brought against the Christian junior college generally, as to its educational soundness and its educational rationale, contain many elements which are highly debatable, to say the least.
In our previous article we made reference to the historical genesis of the movement in the Midwest. In 1938 Classis Ostfriesland initiated this movement by arranging for a meeting of representatives from the five classes in their area. We mention this only in order to come back to their decisions as to need. In these decisions they express what they considered to be the grounds for establishing a Christian junior college in the Midwest. We quote from their minutes:
Resolution I: The Joint Committee of the Five Classes recognizes that our Christian Reformed people in the Midwest need a Christian junior college based upon a positively Reformed basis.
A. It can help to provide Christian education for many of our young people, who now are seeking higher education in other institutions.
B. It can serve as a feeder for Calvin College.
C. The unity of our system of Christian education calls for it. A junior college will help our Christian grammar and high schools as well as the reverse.
D. It will be a powerful instrument for helping our people to maintain their distinctively Reformed position.
In a way, it is to be regretted that we have no detailed record of the reasoned discussion which formed the background to these decisions. However, in the light of very obvious present facts and circumstances, which are integrally connected with the past, it is not difficult for us to recapture their line of thinking. Now, if they were so convinced already by 1938 of the need for a Christian junior college on the basis of facts confronting them, how much more convincing are these same facts in the light of recent developments. And there are new facts, which, though existing on the periphery of their thinking, did not contribute forcibly to their decisions.
The Teacher Shortage Problem
Changes which have come in the last seven years, though not disturbing the basic pattern, do call for some alterations in stating the case for the Christian junior college need. Uppermost in our consideration is the almost phenomenal growth of the new Christian schools and the ever-increasing teacher shortage problem. Within the last seven years, twelve new grammar schools were opened in the Minnesota, Northwest Iowa, South Dakota area. A new high school was opened in Edgerton in 1951, having 90 pupils and enjoying the advantages of a beautiful, all-brick, up-to-date school plant. Three other grammar schools have found opportunity to add the ninth and tenth grades. In the face of this growth, although we have been struggling to raise our educational standards, we must confess that we are meeting with stubborn situations. While we are happy that recent state requirements demand at least a two-year college training course for the teachers in the public schools, it is impossible for us to fulfill these demands in our own Christian schools for lack of teachers. The public schools have their difficulties also. Many of the rural public schools are virtually forced to close their doors or to find some way to by-pass the state law. Our Christian schools certainly ought not to be encouraged to close doors! However, in order to keep our schools open many Christian school boards have been forced to hire teachers having had nothing more than high school training plus a summer course in college.
This may be embarrassing for them, but it is inescapable. Let it be noted and marked that this constitutes not alone the problem of the area referred to above, for we have good evidence to prove that others are laboring within our Christian school boards under like difficulties, some within the outer shadow of our own college. We freely admit, however, that in the larger schools within the immediate vicinity of our college in Grand Rapids this difficulty is being overcome or has already been overcome.
How are we to battle our way through this problem? The simple fact is that we must interest more of our constituency to enter the teaching profession. The National Union of Christian Schools has presented a complete survey of all the difficulties and possible solutions through its fine study committee at the 1952 convention in Chicago. Certain elements of this survey are especially tied up with what we wish to bring out in the junior college proposition. From the report it becomes clear that the teacher shortage problem is not local but national. One rather basic reason given for this situation is the low salary scale for teachers. This may have truth in it but might not be as important in our Christian grammar school situation as is supposed. Some have maintained that the reason why the Minnesota, Northwest Iowa, South Dakota district cannot procure teachers is that they are exceptionally low on the salary scale. Now as to the truth or falsity of this statement there is much that can be presented from both sides. Incidentally, one must be cautious in his judgment, for unless one is intimately acquainted with the total situation in a given area he is apt to misrepresent matters and unjustly injure those who are performing heroically for the Christian school cause.
What is difficult to understand is why those who are paying more attractive salaries are evidently having the same problem of getting and keeping teachers. The shortage is generally no more severe in one area than it is in another. Though it is true that the salary status of teachers must be raised, is it really true that this is as great a cause for our teacher shortage as is often and generally supposed, especially among our Christian grammar school teachers? We know of instances where teachers have left their high salaried positions to teach in schools with lower wages, yet are fairly content with circumstances, taking all things into consideration.
Too Few Go to College!
What impresses us much more from this report is the observation concerning the relatively few among our constituency that actually graduate from college. Whereas 19% of those who graduate from the eighth grade in our nation at large graduating from college, only 16% of those graduating from our Christian grammar schools have graduated from our Calvin College. One might well comment upon the proportion of those graduating from our college who enter into the teaching profession, for it certainly is not high. But the significant thing is that not enough of our people are going to college anyway.
Surely, to arouse more interest, we must follow the suggestions of the N.U.C.S. to do all on our part to produce more teachers. We must have conferences with prospective students, form high school “teacherclubs,” speak about it on our family visiting in the churches, etc. But, if we want results that are proportion. ate with our needs, we must follow the advice of the N.U.C.S. to provide higher education for our people closer to their homes, churches, and schools. Here too, educationally, on the higher level, there must be respectable decentralization according to circumstances. What, for example, is one major explanation for the tremendous increased enrollment in our Christian high schools? Is it not that more such schools have been erected in the areas where all people are concentrated?
Ought we not to learn from others on this score? Consider the case of the Reformed Church of America. This group has two four-year colleges in the Midwest, one at Holland, Michigan, another at Pella, Iowa, and they also have a junior college in Orange City, Iowa, which they hope will soon become a four-year college. By way of comparison, our group is satisfied seemingly with one college, in spite of the fact that we are eager proponents of Christian education and have the whole Christian school system which must be supplied with teachers. And we ought to produce students that are education-minded!
Reasonable As Well As Idealistic
There are some who greatly year the junior college, thinking that it will tend to discourage the four-year teacher-training ideal. Much can be said in answer to this fear. Certainly a two-year college training course is a vast improvement over a high school course! At least this enables us to satisfy state educational requirements. But let us face this four-year. teacher-training course squarely and realistically. From the very nature of our Christian grammar school situation, with its women teachers and its large annual turn-over due to marriage, what can we expect in the solution of teacher shortages if we insist upon a college A.B. for all our teachers? Many of our teachers who now give us at least two or three years service will have to he ruled out. Furthermore, how many young women who now prepare for teaching under a two-year plan would go to college for the same purpose if a four-year study course was demanded before they could teach? It is fine to be idealistic but we should be reasonable as well. For the present this remains a stubborn fact that even our own college, with all its efforts, finds it well-nigh impossible to abandon the two-year teacher-training course.