A New Approach to Undergraduate Education

April 13, 2020

Last week, we shared a bit about how the undergraduate degree we are launching came about as a response to the needs of others.  We didn’t create it because we were seeking more students or to expand our reach as an institution.  On the contrary, we shied away from creating the program and tried to encourage people to attend other schools.  Over time, we discerned that a new approach to undergraduate education might better serve those who were talking with us.

It has been two years since we made that decision.  And since then, we have gathered research, talked with potential partners, and reviewed quite a bit of literature on the “state of college education.”  Here are a few things we found that really stood out to us.

In 2013, 74% of young adults between the ages of 18-29 felt college was very important.  In 2019, only 41% of that age group believed the same thing. The Gallup poll that provides this data is summarized here.

Between the years 2000 and 2014, the number of students who took out loans for college more than doubled to 42 million, and the total student loan debt in the United States now tops $1.3 trillion (details here).

Over the past 30 years, the cost of a four-year private college has risen by nearly 300%. The cost for a public four-year school has risen by 216% while the cost for a public two-year school has risen by 206% – those are all inflation-adjusted numbers (details here)!

The number of career development pathways that are predicated on not going to college continue to proliferate – some of which guarantee starting salaries of $95,000 (details here).

More and more people are convinced that a degree is meaningless (details here).

Given all of those statistics, one might question the wisdom of starting a new bachelor’s degree – especially one that awards a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Thought and Practice!  That is a very valid question.

When we started the Kairos Project, it was predicated on the idea that the world didn’t need a “bigger, better, faster” master’s degree program.  We felt what was needed was a journey of discipleship that invited followers of Christ to 1) discern their vocation and 2) journey with a committed group of mentors to develop the knowledge, skills, and character needed to flourish in that vocation.  This discipleship pathway needed to be affordable, accessible from whatever context God had placed students in, and relevant to that same context.  Oh, and it needed to award a degree (this part is a by-product of a well-designed educational pathway and should never be the primary goal).

As we lean into this new bachelor’s degree, we are joining the innovative work being done by others who are striving to serve students well in these changing times.  For us, those same impulses behind the launch of the Kairos Project continue to fuel this new initiative.  This cannot, and will not, be just another Bachelor of Arts degree.  It is an entirely new approach to undergraduate education that leverages what other institutions are learning and mixes it with what we have learned through the Kairos Project.  Our newly-developed approach takes seriously the fact that one’s vocation, faith, skills, gifts, and context must be fully integrated.  It is this integration that fosters vitality in the workplace and creates unique opportunities for employment, growth, and ongoing personal development.  To put it another way, this is what it means to put faith to work. As followers of Jesus, we are called to integrate our faith and work as participants in God’s mission of reconciliation.  Everyone has a role to play in that kingdom mission.

Data illustrates that a traditional college degree does not guarantee employment nor does it tend to foster a holistic understanding of one’s identity in Christ.  Both of these realities seem to stem from the fact that the traditional approach to undergraduate education creates an alternative reality wherein students engage in learning apart from the daily realities of life.  Our prayer is that by leveraging the daily realities of life, students will be empowered to live more fully into their gifts, vocations, and passions.  By building an educational journey around the student rather than around “content” or an “institution,” the focus can be placed on a journey of discipleship that enables students to flourish in their vocations and contexts – whatever those contexts may be.

But how?

Each semester, students (whether on campus or online) will travel through three types of learning pathways – each designed to integrate vocation, faith, and context.  One pathway is weekly small group cohort sessions led by faculty who also serve as mentors to students in the program.  Another avenue for learning comes through online pathways designed to encourage students to work with a mentor team on projects that are relevant to their vocations and context.  For example, if a student is pursuing a career as a software engineer, the pathways can be customized to account for that.  If a student is planning to be a pastor, the pathways can be adapted to that vocation.  These adaptations happen under the direction of a faculty-led mentor team.  Finally, all students will come together once per term for a Kairos Gathering.  Gatherings are a learning pathway designed to help students reflect on case studies from their contexts. Throughout the program, students can work with their mentor teams to adapt assignments, pursue passions, and create a portfolio of work developed in the crucible of real-life, not the classroom.

While developing this customized learning journey, students will have the opportunity to engage in learning opportunities from 1) institutions around the world, 2) partner organizations that work in areas ranging from software development to pastoral ministry to accounting and more, and 3) immersive international experiences on four different continents.

Put simply, this program is designed to meet people where they are and help them get to where God is calling them to be.

The best part…tuition is only $300/month.  To put this into perspective, the average cost of one year at a public four-year school is $18,000.  The entire program through Kairos will cost $14,400.  And, students earn a bachelor’s degree as a natural by-product of these well-designed educational pathways.

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