Many things have changed about the educational experience offered at Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Christian College (VFCC), but one thing will never change. No matter how many majors or study fields the college adds, theological study will always be the lynchpin that holds VFCC together.
“Philosophically and theologically, several years ago we determined that we didn’t want to keep adding majors and then suddenly wonder what we’d become,” said Dr. Don Meyer, president. “We determined that there must be a consistent theological component in every student’s VFCC experience.”
The college was founded as Eastern Bible Institute in 1939 when a number of smaller schools came together. As its influence expanded over the decades, it became Northeast Bible Institute and eventually Northeast Bible College. During the 1976-77 academic year, the college moved to the present campus on the site of the former Valley Forge General Military Hospital, leading to the establishment of the VFCC name.
VFCC is one of 19 Assemblies of God schools in the US, which have a combined enrollment of about 16,000 students. Roughly 1,200 students are part of VFCC’s student body, with nearly 900 on its main campus and the rest split between the college’s Woodbridge, Va., branch campus and extension sites in South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
When Meyer came on board 14 years ago, the college had seven majors, all ministry-related. Today it has about 25 majors, half focused on church ministry and half common majors that can be found on virtually any college campus. VFCC also has four master’s degree programs. This led to the leadership effort to confirm the college’s Christian identity while continuing to expand curriculum.
VFCC divided its board into committees to determine what parts of the college’s experience were absolute priorities that would never be compromised. The summary became known as The Forge Way. VFCC students attend chapel every day, take at least 30 credits of Bible and theology as part of every major, and get involved in practical ministry and leadership training as soon as they arrive on campus as freshmen.
Combining curricular expansion while reaffirming its Christian heritage has led to a major expansion in the student body. Since Meyer’s tenure began, enrollment has more than doubled. VFCC now offers degree programs in everything from business and education to psychology and digital media, as well as the four master’s degree programs. It is moving toward university status, looking to meet the state’s department of education requirement of a minimum of five master’s degree programs to meet the objective criteria for university status.
“Our plan for the future is making the option of considering VFCC not just a viable option for prospective students, but a preferred option for persons who want a quality education,” said Meyer. “We’re developing online courses, too, and we currently have the Children’s Ministries University Online (CMUO) fully accredited one-year certificate program in children’s ministries that can be completed entirely online.”
The college has a master plan that anticipates growth up to about 2,000 students on the main campus. To accommodate and facilitate that growth, the college is taking a proactive look at student recruitment, faculty development, and facility planning.
Recruitment initiatives are multifaceted, using traditional approaches and modern technology. The college has traveling teams visiting youth camps, churches, and festivals, and billboards and print advertising are part of the marketing plan as well. Use of technology is increasing and includes an overhaul of the college’s website and use of social networking tools like Facebook.
As for facilities, the college has been in a continuous cycle of upgrading and enhancing buildings since it moved to the Valley Forge property in the late 1970s. When the school purchased the property for $1 from the government, it came with 72 buildings and 1.75 million square feet of space, much of which was in disrepair. Facility costs almost required the school to close in the early 1980s, but a distinguished educator from the Assemblies of God church left retirement and came to VFCC for two years, serving without salary to lead the college’s physical rejuvenation.
J. Robert Ashcroft, father of former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, practiced servant leadership, going so far as to work on the buildings himself. Meyer said his work ethic and personal sacrifice helped save the school.
In the past 14 years, many friends and alumni helped the school with significant improvements, particularly the facilities. Efforts included demolishing 27 old buildings, constructing a new library, residence hall, and academic building, and doubling the size of the main chapel and cafeteria. Meyer said his present goal is the construction of new athletic facilities as soon as possible.
Meyer said maintaining a faculty that he once heard a student describe as precious is another of his priorities. The faculty has grown from 17 to more than 30 in the last 13 years. As VFCC adds faculty members, a rigorous interview process ensures they identify with the Forge Way and can function as mentors and connect with students pastorally.
“Our faculty members are as comfortable in chapel as they are giving an exam, lecture, or working with technology in class,” said Meyer. “Our mission is what binds us all, and when faculty is committed to that, it spills over to our students. What they bring in spirit and mind transforms the dynamic of our campus.”
With university status in sight and more than a decade of growth on the books, VFCC has much to look forward to. But Meyer is quick to give credit where credit is due. He is certain that not only are the people associated with the college doing great things, they are also blessed with help from above.
“We feel like we are in the midst of an amazing season of God’s blessings that are resulting in the good things happening here. Those blessings supersede the abilities and hard work of the past or the present,” he said. “Every day I am overwhelmed with the privilege of being here and acknowledge that we are part of something larger than ourselves.”