By Dr. Stan Norman
President, Williams Baptist University
In my previous article, I presented the idea that our mission of a biblically-grounded, Christ-centered learning experience should include a robust understanding of work; that is, a Christian worldview should give prominence to the concept and practice of work. Our God is a working God – He is constantly working to fulfill His purposes for His glory. As beings made in His image, He created us to work, and we reflect, in part, His image in us when we work in accordance with His purposes. God created us to work. The Lord Jesus redeemed us to work. As followers of Jesus Christ, our work is witness, worship and service. As such, our mission of Christian higher education must teach our students how to work as unto the Lord.
With this commitment in mind, I want to address another rationale for the transition of Williams Baptist University to a work-college model. One of the biggest challenges facing high school graduates today is the rising costs of higher education. For many of these students, the dream of a college education is cost prohibitive. Many simply are unable to afford to go to college. And for those who do manage to secure initial funding to begin their educational pursuits, they are quickly overwhelmed by the challenge of continuing to fund their education.
These financial challenges reflect a stark reality confronting our nation – the rising cost of higher education outpaces the wages of the typical American family. According to the latest studies, the national average for cost of education at public institutions for 2019-2020 hovers around $22,000 per year (average costs for students attending out-of-state institutions is $38,000). For the same academic year, the national average for private institutions exceeds $40,000. The price tag to achieve a degree in four years is well over $100,000. Some students require an additional semester or two to complete their degree, incurring even greater expense to complete their education.
The affordability of higher education creates for many the challenge of how to pay for a college degree. The typical American family is unable to outright pay for a college education. As such, many finance their college education through student loans. In 2019, student loan debt made up the greatest amount of non-housing debt in our nation, exceeding $1.5 trillion dollars. Many of the students who fund their college education through student loans graduate with significant debt, a burden they carry for years, some even decades.
Williams Baptist University has historically provided an outstanding Christian education for less than half the cost of these national averages. We give a great education as evidenced by the incredible lives and contributions of many of our alums. As affordable as a WBU education is, however, the costs of a WBU education are still a challenge for many Arkansas students. We need to find a different way for families and students to pursue Christian higher education and fulfill God’s call upon their lives to prepare for a life of work and service. There must be a better way!
For Williams Baptist University, we believe the better way is the Williams Works program. Williams Works is a new initiative we are launching to provide a way forward for many students to achieve the dream of a college education. The Williams Works program makes a college education affordable for many and provides a potential way for students to graduate debt-free.
In one sense, this is a new initiative for WBU. We are creating and implementing new structures designed to provide jobs for students as a way for them to work and pay for their education. This summer we launched Eagle Farms – an actual on-campus farm where students will grow, cultivate, harvest, prepare and sell produce. Our Community Partnerships program creates work alliances with local businesses where students will work in the surrounding business community.
In another sense, the Williams Works program is a return to our beginning – a return to the way many students in those early years paid for their college education. The personal and educational experiences of our founder, Dr. H. E. Williams, shaped the philosophical approach of Christian higher education when WBU (then known as Southern Baptist College) was founded. The first two-years of his college experience at Arkansas Polytechnic College influenced his understanding of the value of work and vocational education. His remaining two-years at what was then known as Ouachita Baptist College shaped his understanding of the importance of ministerial and classical/liberal arts education. Both of these values are embedded in the heart of Williams Baptist University.
The ideal of work is a vital part of the core identity of the university. Dr. Williams created initiatives at Southern Baptist College to provide opportunities for students to work as a way to pay for their education. Dr. Williams purchased a printing press to do commercial printing as well as service the school’s print needs. He established a woodworking shop to produce chairs, pulpit furniture, and pews for commercial sale. He purchased and ran radio stations, with outlets in Walnut Ridge and Milan, TN. The school owned and operated a rice and soybean farm on 400 acres. For a while, SBC operated an auto mechanics repair shop. Vocational programs provided opportunities for students to learn a trade and practice that trade in commercial enterprises on behalf of the school (ex., HVAC program).
I have a heart for the student who wants to pursue an outstanding Christ-centered education at WBU but may be unable due to his or her financial realities. I recently met a student who visited our campus and expressed interest in being a Williams Works student. Her personal story is one of great trial and challenge. Both of her parents are deceased – her older brother is raising her. She wants to pursue a college degree at a Christian university. This is her opportunity, maybe her only opportunity, to pursue this dream. Williams Works is a viable way for her to prepare for a life of work and service to God – to work her way through school and graduate debt-free. I have a heart for students like her and countless others who need an affordable way to get a college education at a Christ-centered university.
We are prayerfully hopeful about this initiative and its value for our mission. We are implementing initiatives to provide work scholarships through university-sponsored work programs. We want to support and expand the mission of WBU to as many students as possible by providing an affordable education that offers the possibility of graduating debt-free. We believe that the Williams Works program provides a way to advance our worthy mission of Christ-centered education.
Please pray for us as we seek the wisdom and enablement of our Lord to pursue His purposes for Williams Baptist University, a Campus of Christian Purpose.