Baptist higher education holds lengthy tradition
    September 8 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Each North Carolina Baptist college was invited to submit an article for a feature package in the Sept. 11 issue of the Biblical Recorder. Scroll to bottom to find links to all the stories.)

    Baptist higher education stands on the shoulders of a long tradition in Christianity linking knowledge to faith. The Apostle Paul, many of the early church fathers and important theologians like Augustine were respected for their knowledge, both in religious and secular realms.

    Most early colleges founded in America began as denominational schools intended to meet the need for an educated clergy and at the same time provide an educated lay leadership for church and denomination.

    Baptists were significant players in the movement. The first Baptist institution of higher learning in America, Rhode Island College, was founded in 1764. It was renamed Brown University in 1804.

    From its origin in the Northeast, the Baptist movement spread into the mid-Atlantic and Southern regions. A group of Baptists including Luther Rice, a prime mover for Baptist home and foreign missions in the early 19th century, decided in 1819 to establish a school in the nation’s capital called Columbian College. The venture proved to be financially unsustainable. The federal government bailed it out, and by an act of Congress in 1904, it became George Washington University, severing all ties with Baptists.

    Inspired in part by a desire for an educated clergy, Furman University in Greenville, S.C., was founded in 1826. The school was named after Richard Furman, a clergyman and pioneer statesman in Southern Baptist life.

    As pioneers moved westward, religious schools popped up along the way. Many were small academies to teach children the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic — and the Bible. They flourished in the hundreds until the beginning of the public-school movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Baptists in the West tended to be more suspicious of higher learning, based on their opinion of clergy of other faiths they viewed as intellectually elite but spiritually dead. In the end, however, the desire for qualified church leaders and to improve the social status of Baptists prevailed.

    Georgetown College in Kentucky lays claim to being the oldest Baptist college west of the Appalachians, dating its founding to an academy started in 1787 by a Baptist pastor named Elijah Craig. But it wasn’t chartered by the Commonwealth of Kentucky until 1829. Other early Baptist colleges included Union University in Tennessee (1823); the University of Richmond, established in 1832 by the Virginia Baptist Education Society; Mercer University, founded by Georgia Baptists (1833); and Wake Forest University, chartered by North Carolina Baptists (1833). Judson College, an all-female school in Marion, Ala., began in 1838. Samford University began in Marion as an all-male school in 1841 but relocated to Birmingham in 1877. The Republic of Texas chartered Baylor University in 1845.

    Baptists started Missouri’s William Jewell College in 1849, Mississippi College in 1850 and other schools in places including Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and North Carolina.

    By the time the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845, there were 11 existing institutions of higher learning associated with Baptists in the South. Significantly, the SBC chose not to venture into establishing colleges and universities, concentrating the denomination’s efforts on preparing ministers in seminaries at the graduate level and entrusting undergraduate education to Baptist state conventions.

    That collegiality lasted for nearly 150 years, until controversies of the last two decades of the 20th century prompted seminaries to add baccalaureate programs while several colleges and universities opened seminaries or divinity schools.

    The number of Baptist institutions of higher learning continued to grow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Baptist state conventions included developing a college as part of their ministry plan and destitute schools turned to Baptists to rescue them from dire financial straits.

    In 1915, the Southern Baptist Convention established an Education Commission to give centralized planning and coordination of several colleges and universities sponsored by state Baptist conventions. The commission was abolished in denominational reorganization in 1995, but an Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools that had worked with the agency determined to carry on its essential functions as an independent voluntary association owned and governed by members.

    With adoption of the Cooperative Program unified giving plan, Southern Baptists provided a higher level of financial support for their colleges and universities than most denominations. That helped them retain a loyal religious constituency, while most Northern schools started as religious institutions gradually lost or diminished their denominational identity.

    While denominational support remains comparatively generous, the budgets of colleges and universities grew much larger than those of sponsoring bodies, forcing presidents to concentrate on fundraising and decreasing the percentage of their funds coming from Baptist organizations. As schools became less dependent on state conventions for funding, those groups exercised less influence.

    Beginning in the 1980s, the SBC controversy prompted several proudly Baptist institutions to sever ties with state conventions, viewing theological politics as a threat to their academic freedom. In the mid-1970s, 71 Baptist universities, seminaries and schools identified with the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools. By 2008, the number dropped to 51.

    In 2006, members of the association voted to rename the organization the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities. Leaders said the intent wasn’t to distance the schools from their heritage, but rather to expand the group’s focus to a global scale.

    “Baptist higher education has served Baptists well over the years, and it is our role at IABCU to continue promoting and celebrating our member institutions,” said Michael Arrington, the group’s executive director.

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    9/8/2010 6:41:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Gene Scarborough
[b]An interesting aspect of Furman University:[/b] It was first, Greenville College for Women!

My grandmother had her diploma hanging on her clapboard wall of their country home, about 5 miles from the campus.

In a day when our new BF&M 2000 puts women down, the wise folks of Pickens County, SC, provided for women to rise above the ignorance of the day!
9/9/2010 6:48:18 AM

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