Bluefield College (visited 11/4/16)
This is a very small, very “Christ-centered school.” They’re associated with the Southern Baptists, and they make no secret that they bring Christian values into everything they do. There is a complete integration of faith and learning. People seem to come here specifically for that reason.
Several faculty said that they were so glad that they could openly talk about their faith and Christ in the classroom. One faculty member said, “We have the freedom to be openly Christian here. You hear about crazy turns at public school. We can pray in class and share our opinions in class. It’s refreshing to have open discussions. I don’t have to think about it much. We can talk to students about faith.” Another professor in the biology department said, “We bring both perspectives into our discussion. Students learn about evolution, but we’ll also bring Scripture in and have a discussion about what they think different passages might teach us, or how we can interpret them within the bounds of sciences. Can these coexist?”
This is a mission- and faith-based institution “but open to everyone.” However, we didn’t talk to anyone who was not seeking this specific environment; people who didn’t want a constant discussion of Christ/Scripture (or at least willing to put up with it) will not do well here. There are 2 required classes: 1st is “Biblical Perspectives” (a foundation class); the 2nd class is the student’s choice. Students must attend 15 Chapels (religious; Wednesday) and convocations (academic) per semester. One person said that the 15 could be any combination, but another said that at least 10 had to be Chapel services.
The students’ favorite things about Bluefield are:
- Everyone is so open to new ideas. People are willing to make things happen.
- How easy it is to make friendships even with faculty.
- Faculty work with you to help make sure you’re doing what you’re doing.
- It’s a place where Christ can work with and through us.
- The first month of school, the faculty stood around the perimeter and prayed over the students. “I’ve never heard someone say, “If you aren’t sure, pray about it” in a classroom setting before.”
- There’s always something going on around town, including a Lemonade Festival.
We visited on a Friday morning when the 179 first-year students were in their weekly Common Core lecture. Throughout the semester, they hear 15 lectures from professors across the curriculum, getting exposed to the breadth of liberal arts, and even the business department. They take a common course for the first 3 years; Bluefield is 1 of 3 colleges in VA to get an A rating for their core curriculum placing them in the top 2.3% of all colleges.
Freshman year Core is “Invitation to Inquiry.” The speaker on the day we visited was an expert in Appalachian poetry, talking about Speaking about Creativity and Spoken Word. Sophomore core is “Character Formation;” 3rd year is “Civics and Global Response” (students are paired with community services to help out).
Bluefield became a 4-year school in 1975. They grew to 540 students this year and hope to add more. The male population is currently higher (56%) because they added football a few years ago. They’re 36% racially diverse and have 59 international students.
Surprisingly, given the tiny population, they’re DI athletics in the NAIA, explaining why they draw so many athletes (69% play a varsity sport). Athletes can’t superscore their standardized test scores: the NAIA looks at single score (940 or 18) and 2.0 GPA. Teams often have competitions to see who has the highest GPA.
Other applicants can have test scores superscored. Bluefield uses only their application (no Common App) and it’s free. They talked a lot about both open-door access and making tuition affordable. Their Pathways program help students within a 50-60 miles by cutting tuition by 50% (about 75 students take advantage of this). A significant number have PELL grants. Students can earn up to $12,000 in academic scholarships and unlimited athletic scholarships. The Economist ranked Bluefield #44 for overall value (cost, scholarships, salary upon graduation, etc). They also offer Fine Arts, graphic design, music, and theater scholarships.
Some favorite classes are:
Character formation: “I didn’t know what to expect. I learned a lot about myself and why I am the way I am and do what I do.”
- “The same. Before I took it, I said, ‘I know my character. Why do I have to form it?’ But I learned so much!”
- Media Writing: “we spent the semester working on newspaper. I went out of my comfort zone and interviewed a lot of people around campus. I’ve made a lot of connections and learned about all sorts of stuff happening.”
- Media and Society: “This was an ethics in media class right when the election was starting. I did research all sorts of issues.”
A professor on the panel said that she liked teaching the Serial Killer class and the Business Law class: “In that class, I bring in lots of real life stuff like wills, real estate, etc. I see the students’ eyes light up; they know they can use this.”
Students and staff talked a lot about principled learned and the honor code. “Transformational leadership is a vital part of who we are,” said a rep. With the Honor Code, “we hold each other to high standards,” said the tour guide (other people reiterated similar sentiments during the visit). Students agree to live lives of integrity academically and in personal lives, including no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco (on or off campus).
Two new dorms have gone up with apartments housing 4 people in 2 single and 1 double rooms. There’s a kitchen in each one, but students living here must have at least a commuter meal plan. Students must be upperclassmen in good standing and not having broken any inter-visitation rules. Coed visitation is strictly regulated including hours, doors open, “and all clothes remain on.” In the apartments, the blinds must also be up. I asked why the honor code (aka the trust, hold each other accountable, and “lives of integrity”) didn’t extend to visitation. The tour guide had no idea how to answer that, but the admissions rep tagging along on the tour said, “Well, we are a Baptist school. We don’t have to have visitation at all. We offer it but hold to the standards of the church.”