Breaking up is hard to do.

When a Bible school looks for ways to grow or just survive, some decide to move to a liberal arts university model.

In doing so, they often leave the largest Christian college accrediting association in the US — ABHE: Association for Biblical Higher Education. ABHE requires that all members maintain a Bible/Theology core of thirty credit hours in their curriculum. However, when schools leave ABHE, nearly all of them lower their Bible/Theology core units.[1]

Does reducing these core Bible classes result in growth? Does it weaken a student’s spiritual development as many believe it does?  And how necessary is a Bible core to a Liberal Arts degree? To answer these questions, I’ve briefly presented here some data from my recent dissertation: “The Future of Undergraduate Biblical Higher Education: ABHE and the Bible College Movement.”

Of the thirteen governing members of the CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities CCCU (see table 1) who were once accredited with ABHE. Only BIOLA University maintains the current ABHE requirement of 30 credit hours. The average Bible/Theology core of these thirteen institutions stands at 18.2 credit hours.

Table 1 Bible/Theology Core of CCCU Member Institutions Once with ABHE

Bible/Theology Core

Azusa Pacific University               18

BIOLA University                            30

Colorado Christian University       12

Corban University                           24

Crown College                                24

Emmanuel College                        18

Kentucky Christian University        12

North Central University                 18

Northwest University                       12

Point University                                15

Simpson University                          21

Southeastern University                  18

Toccoa Falls College                        15

Source: Data from College Catalogs of each institution during Fall 2016.

While moving from strictly a Bible college to a liberal arts university model often helps institutions grow, this is not always the case (see table 2). While eleven of these thirteen institutions have encountered undergraduate enrollment growth since leaving ABHE, two have not.

Some of the institutions have experienced great growth, specifically: Azusa Pacific (second largest CCCU institution based on Fall 2017 data), Colorado Christian (fourth largest), Southeastern (fifth largest), and BIOLA University (tenth largest).  On the surface, these figures may indicate that a weakened Bible/Theology core contributes to growth, with one exception. BIOLA University shows that moving to a liberal arts university model does not necessitate a weakened Bible/Theology core.

Table 2 Fall Undergraduate Enrollment Comparisons

Last Year with ABHE /

Fall UG Enrollment                    Fall 2017 UG Enrollment

Azusa Pacific University                unsure but listed on 70/71 report

F80 –    1,196                                   7,610

BIOLA University                           unsure but listed on 80/81 report

F80 –    2,298                                   4,048

Colorado Christian University      93/94 – 1,066                                                                          6,537

Corban University                          95/96 –     694                                                                           1,021

Crown College                                 06/07 – 1,237                                                                           1,059

Emmanuel College                         91/92 –     380                                                                              953

Kentucky Christian University     98/99 –     547                                                                              592

North Central University               90/91 – 1,182                                                                           1,076

Northwest University                     94/95 –     839                                                                              950

Point University                              93/94 –     262                                                                           1,926

Simpson University                        90/91 –     356                                                                               777

Southeastern University                98/99 – 1,078                                                                           6,240

Toccoa Falls College                       11/12 –    778                                                                              1,411

Source: Data from IPEDS.

There are also five associate members of CCCU who once had accreditation with ABHE (see table 3). The average Bible/Theology core for these five is 20.4 credit hours. Multnomah still maintains the 30-hour core (they left ABHE in Fall 2015). Four of the five institutions have experienced growth since moving towards a liberal arts model (see table 4).

Table 3 Bible/Theology Core of CCCU Associate Institutions Once with ABHE

Bible/Theology Core

Arizona Christian University                                                  18

Mid-Atlantic Christian University                                            18

Multnomah University                                                             30

Southwestern Assemblies of God University                         18

University of Valley Forge                                                       18

Source: Data from College Catalogs of each institution during Fall 2016.


Table 4 Fall Undergraduate Enrollment Comparisons

Last Year with ABHE /

Fall UG Enrollment              Fall 2017 UG Enrollment

Arizona Christian University             09/10 –    401                                  786

Mid-Atlantic Christian University     09/10 –    165                                    192

Multnomah University                      14/15 –    418                                     394

Southwestern Assem of God Univ     01/02 – 1,607                                1,790

University of Valley Forge                00/01 –    618                                      704

Source: Data from IPEDS.

The focus of this research surrounds both the Bible/Theology core and enrollment trends. And the purpose of my research is to understand these models, not to tear down CCCU institutions who often show a weakened Bible/Theology core.

In fact, many factors contribute to enrollment growth and/or decline. And having a weakened Bible/Theology core is not necessarily detrimental to a student’s spiritual development.

Samuel Joeckel and Thomas Chesnes conducted a rather significant survey of CCCU faculty/students and published the results in 2012 (“The Christian College Phenomenon: Inside America’s Fastest Growing Institutions of Higher Learning”). They state, “According to our data, member institutions of the CCCU are places that succeed in cultivating faith and integrating that faith with learning” (62).

While the Bible/Theology core at CCCU institutions may be less than that of ABHE schools, if member institutions are succeeding with faith integration within a student’s given academic discipline, then one might conclude that students are experiencing spiritual development.

We need to consider the focused mission of Bible colleges versus the broader mission that many universities have. Thus, a robust Bible/Theology core is critical. At St. Louis Christian College, our Bible core is normally 45 hours, making up 37% of a student’s total course load. On the other hand, a student at a liberal arts university (e.g., someone majoring in physical therapy) probably does not need those 45 hours in Bible. We may conclude that the Bible core is often seen as relative to a desired degree.

[1] Some institutions do not always call this core Bible/Theology. A study of these thirteen institutions revealed that the core is called a variety of things such as: religion, worldview, Christian studies, and cultural and philosophical foundations.


  • Scott Womble

    Dr. T. Scott Womble, Vice President of Academics at St. Louis Christian College, is also the founder of the Biblical Higher Education Collaborative ( One of the features is a monthly podcast with a leader in biblical higher education.

    View all posts
Share This