God's Faithfulness to NWC President Greg Christy reflects on 10 years

Many things have changed in higher education since I began as Northwestern College’s president in January 2008. However, when it comes to our foundational values as an institution, we are more resolute and committed to our mission than ever.

What remains unchanged since 2008?

Living out our mission. Everything we do begins and ends with our mission, which states that Northwestern College is a Christian academic community engaging students in courageous and faithful learning and living that empowers them to follow Christ and pursue God’s redeeming work in the world. A clear and compelling mission is only as strong as the professors, staff members, students and alumni living it out. At Northwestern, I meet with every candidate who interviews for employment. I ask about their relationship with Jesus Christ and how their understanding of Christ and calling will impact their work and ability to live out our mission. Our employee handbooks say, “Appointees shall be in fundamental agreement with the purposes of the college … and shall express an active Christian commitment.” Northwestern attentively encourages and evaluates faculty members’ ability to make meaningful connections between their academic disciplines and the claims of Scripture and the Christian faith.

Commitment to the authority of Scripture. Northwestern College stands with the historic Christian faith and confessions of the Reformed tradition in our belief that Holy Scripture occupies a privileged position as the final authority for the faith and practice of the people of God. While the prevailing winds of culture may pressure all Christian institutions to waver in their commitments, Northwestern continues to hold firm to the biblical exhortation of the Apostle Paul, who says in Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship … Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

While there are many cultural issues that threaten to distort God’s vision for human flourishing, issues related to human sexuality are at the forefront. Pornography, premarital sex, adultery, sexual assault, the objectification of women, and same-sex activity all exemplify the brokenness of sexual desire and expression. Like all good gifts from God, the gift of human sexuality is to be honored, cherished and expressed in ways that bring glory to God. It is within this context that sexual promiscuity of any sort is always wrong, and it’s the reason we call all members of our community to chastity—to celibacy outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage. Our board has affirmed in our faculty, staff and student handbooks: “The college lifts up the Christian ideal of marriage between a man and a woman and contends that all sexual intimacy shall be within the bounds of such marriage.” While this vision of marriage is being challenged both inside and outside the church, we believe it reflects the call of Scripture and God’s best for us as human beings. At Northwestern, we strive to live out this vision by holding to the truth while loving each other with the grace God gives each of us.

What has changed since 2008?

Campus. Visitors compliment our beautiful, modern campus, thanks to expansions and improvements like these:

  • 2011 – Completed renovation of the 4-court area of the Rowenhorst Student Center
  • 2011 – Opened North Suites, a 68-bed men’s suite-style residence
  • 2012 – Completed renovation of the cafeteria and Vermeer Dining Room
  • 2013 – Completed DeWitt Learning Commons and new campus entrance
  • 2013 – Upgraded RSC Mini-Gym with a new fitness facility, racquetball courts and game zone
  • 2014 – Completely renovated the former Ramaker Library to serve as Northwestern’s student life center
  • 2015 – Opened the Juffer Athletic Fieldhouse for golf, baseball, softball and weight training for all athletes
  • 2016 – Converted the former Korver Weight Room into the Paul Bartlett Wrestling Facility
  • 2018 – Opening the DeWitt Family Science Center for biology, chemistry and nursing

Curriculum. Last fall we established a new academic leadership structure with four divisional deans reporting to Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Mark Husbands. During my tenure, we have launched new undergraduate programs in art therapy, biochemistry, criminal justice, genetics, sport management, translation & interpretation, and worship arts, and existing programs in agricultural business and computer science are being strengthened. Our Master of Education program has seven tracks: early childhood, early childhood + birth through grade three endorsement, educational administration + PK-12 principal endorsement, master teacher, special education, special education + instructional strategist I or II, and teacher leadership. We plan to begin offering a master’s degree in athletic training in 2019–20 and launch a master’s program in physician assistant studies in 2020.

Enrollment. It has become harder to recruit undergraduate, residential students. There are fewer students graduating from high schools in the Midwest, and more of them are choosing two-year colleges and public universities due to three primary factors: the 2008 market collapse, the downturn in the housing market, and the perception of cost. Compared with 10 years ago, families are more concerned with price; they want measurable, concrete results as a return on their investment. Fortunately, we proactively diversified by adding programs for graduate students and adult learners, a growing market in our region. We are cautiously optimistic about undergraduate enrollment for the fall of 2018, and we continue to be pleased with robust growth in our graduate programs.

Giving. When an institution is blessed with a clear and compelling Christian mission, it not only leads to an increased number of students but also to strong financial support. During 2016–17 we received more than $9.1 million, shattering the previous record of $6.5 million in 2013–14! This is thanks to the diligent work of our advancement team, as well as a new culture of volunteer leadership exemplified by the chairs of our last two campaigns: Dr. Dave Bomgaars ’77 and Dr. Bryan Den Hartog ’81.

Best Christian Workplaces Institute (BCWI). For the past four years we have contracted with BCWI to survey our employees about their satisfaction with Northwestern. On the most recent survey, our employees ranked us at 3.86 (out of 5) for overall satisfaction, our highest score yet. We are especially pleased with the feedback we received regarding NWC supervisors. Acclaimed author Marcus Buckingham says, “[E]mployees don’t leave organizations, they leave because of their supervisors.” The highest ranking we received from employees was a 4.45 on the statement, “My supervisor cares about me as a person.” What a great affirmation of the effective and compassionate people NWC is blessed with.

Students. Everything we do is aimed at providing transformational experiences for students academically, spiritually, socially and personally, and our students and alumni consistently provide evidence of this. Our most recent accounting graduates had the 5th-highest U.S. scores on the CPA exam. Pre-med students who took the MCAT in 2017 finished in the 77th percentile, putting them in the top quarter among test-takers worldwide. We have added more than 60 new paid internship opportunities since 2014. One of them helped lead to a job offer at Ernst & Young for Chris Sietstra ’17, who shared the following: 

Positions at [Big Four accounting firms] are highly sought after. I was competing with candidates from some of the biggest state and private schools in the country—and at times wondered how I would stack up. During the interview process, I realized how impressive my Northwestern College education is. Nearly everyone I interviewed with asked, “What college do you go to?” I’d answer, “Northwestern College in Iowa,” and they’d say, “If you’re an example of the quality of education there, I’m sending my kids!”

Chris’ story is remarkable but certainly not unique. Northwestern College grads are highly sought after. That’s why 99% of the class of 2017 were employed or in grad school within six months of graduation.

In addition to landing good jobs and being accepted into the nation’s most prestigious graduate programs, our students are also being prepared for meaningful lives and Kingdom influence. Having traveled the U.S. for a decade, I have found Northwestern College graduates to be courageous and faithful followers of Christ who are leaders in their homes, churches, professions and communities. I am inspired by them and deeply grateful for those of you who partner with the college through friendship, advocacy, financial support and especially prayer.

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