Transnational Education and Christian Universities in Central Oklahoma

Globalization has greatly impacted higher education around the world. From new technologies that enabled previously unseen communication capabilities, to greater student and faculty mobility, to easily transferable college credits, universities have been adapting to the new global reality and its challenges (de Wit, 2011). Cross-border delivery in higher education has seen public, private, and governmental institutions collaborating and creating new educational models that have enabled students to have greater choice and access to a college education (Youssef, 2014); they have also enabled higher education institutions to expand their offerings to previously untapped markets (Xiaozhou & Yue, 2013).

Transnational education (TNE) is probably the most “visible” manifestation of globalization in higher education (Adam, 2001, p. 1). It has been defined as, “all types of higher education study programmes, or sets of courses of study, or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based” (Rauhvargers, 2001, p. 1). TNE includes “international cooperation and exchange that can lead to the delivery of degree and non-degree programs in foreign locations, staff and student mobility, cross-border accreditation, research collaboration, and many other applicable forms of the internationalization process” (Burgess & Berquist, 2012, p. 325).

Christian universities in the state of Oklahoma are very much involved in transnational education, and several of them have established programs that reach students in various parts of the globe using different modes of TNE. The purpose of this study is to present a brief overview of TNE activities by Christian universities in the Central region of the state of Oklahoma, while pointing to possible areas for further development and future investigation.

Method

The researcher conducted a brief survey of the literature on transnational education in order to understand the context of such activities in higher education. The works by Burgess and Berquist (2012) and Knight (2006) were particularly helpful in framing the modes of TNE used by some of the universities, and in understanding the challenges and opportunities each institution faces as it continues to incorporate TNE activities as part of its educational offerings.

The researcher then turned to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) website (Members, 2014) in order to compile a list of Christian universities in the state of Oklahoma. CCCU was selected as a filtering mechanism that ensured that the universities included in the study were independently identified as being Christian institutions of higher learning. According to its website, CCCU has five requirements for an institution to be accepted as a member: “It is a nonprofit, North American institution with non-probationary regional accreditation;” “ it has a Christian mission statement and integrates Biblical faith into its educational programs;” “it has an institutional policy and practice to hire only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ;” “it is committed to advancing the cause of Christian higher education;” and “it operates under the standards of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability” (Members, 2014, para. 2). Using the available filters for the manipulation of CCCU’s online database, the researcher compiled a list of Christian universities located in the state of Oklahoma that were full members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; that is, they met all five criteria for membership (Members, 2014). Universities located outside of the central region of the state of Oklahoma (defined as in or near the Oklahoma City metro area) were then excluded.

Following the identification of the participant universities, the researcher investigated each CCCU member university in central Oklahoma using the institution’s own website as a source for data. The researcher visited each university’s website and conducted a survey of its academic programs, focusing on its international activities. Any TNE programs found were then compiled and summarized. The researcher then proceeded to classify the TNE programs offered by Christian universities in the state of Oklahoma according to Knight’s (2006) six modes for program mobility and six modes for provider mobility, while also pointing to additional future TNE and research opportunities.

Results

Using the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) online database of members and affiliates (Member, 2014), the researcher identified five universities in the state of Oklahoma that were full members of that entity: Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oral Roberts University, and Southern Nazarene University. All five institutions fulfilled the requirements for admission into CCCU and are listed as Christian universities with full membership status (Members, 2014). Of the five universities, only three were located in central Oklahoma: Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee), Oklahoma Christian University (Edmond), and Southern Nazarene University (Bethany). These three universities were investigated for TNE activities, and results are presented below.

Oklahoma Baptist University

Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) is a Christian liberal arts university located in Shawnee, Oklahoma that offers a wide variety of international study opportunities to its nearly 2,000 students (About OBU, 2014); these options range from foreign study tours led by OBU professors to semesters abroad and opportunities to join Veritas Christian Study Abroad, CIS Abroad, and other study-abroad programs. OBU features scholarship opportunities via Rotary International and a direct link to the Consortium for Global Education on its foreign studies dedicated webpage (Study abroad, 2014).

There was no easily available information about the study tours led by OBU professors; however, a deeper search of OBU’s website, using both Google and Bing, yielded only one example of past tours. A special study tour (OBU offers, 2012) led by Dr. Glenn Sanders, OBU professor of History, took place in August, 2013. The tour focused on C. S. Lewis’ life and work, allowing students to visit sites associated with the author both in southern England and in Belfast, Ireland.

OBU’s partnership with Veritas Christian Study Abroad gives its students access to study abroad and mission programs that last a regular semester or a summer term; there are also a few programs that last a whole academic year and others that focus on intensive foreign language studies (About Veritas, 2014). Study abroad options include visits to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, England, France, Italy, Peru, South Korea, and Spain. CIS (Center for International Studies) Abroad offers similar services but with shorter stay options, such as Summer Abroad and January Abroad, or longer programs, such as Intern Abroad and Study Abroad, to a long list of countries: Argentina, Australia, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, and Thailand (CIS Abroad, 2014). CIS Abroad also allows students to visit other countries and take classes in their majors that are offered by local, accredited universities (Semester in Argentina, 2014).

As a Christian university, many international opportunities extended by OBU to its students include missionary and social service work. In this regard, OBU has an impressive yearly offering of opportunities for its students; a brief survey of its Go Trip page (Go Trip, 2014) yielded 18 different opportunities for mission and social service abroad in 2015. Non-U.S. destinations included: South, Northern, Central, East, and Southeast Asia; Central, Western, and Northern Europe; Horn of Africa, and North, Central, East, and Southern Africa; and Canada. Academic activities ranged from speaking at symposia or living in a university campus, to participating in cultural exchanges with local students or studying the local language.

In 2008, a four-week long study abroad program offered by OBU in the 1970s, known as European Studies Program, was again offered to 20 students who travelled to France and Germany (European studies program, 2008). Under the leadership of OBU professors, students visited sites in Berlin, Wittenberg, Wurzburg, Baden-Baden, Erfurt, and Buchenwald in Germany, in addition to Strasbourg, Paris, and Colmar in France. Students were eligible for up to six credit hours as part of this program. The 2009 edition of the European Studies Program was cancelled (Opportunity extended, 2009), and the researcher could not find any information about this program after that year. Currently, OBU’s dedicated international studies page (Study abroad, 2014) contains a link to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities’ website, where students can learn more about study abroad opportunities offered by that institution.

While there were references to online courses in the Academic catalog (2014), the researcher was not able to locate any clear indication that there were degree programs offered online by OBU other than the Master of Business Administration (Online general, 2014). There was no clear indication that individual courses were available in the online modality, nor were there any links on OBU’s website that directed visitors to distance learning, online learning, or e-learning. The online general MBA allows students to take six-week, asynchronous courses that lead to the degree completion in “around 18 months” (Online general, 2014, para. 7). The university actively recruits international students (College of graduate, 2014), so it would be reasonable to assume that some of OBU’s online students are currently residing abroad and earning their degree from this Oklahoma-based university; there is no clear or explicit indication of this fact on its website, though.

Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) is a Christian university associated with Churches of Christ and located in Edmond, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City (Church of Christ, 2014). Total enrollment is around 2,400 students from all 50 states and 48 countries (University profile, 2014). Like its Baptist counterpart, OC also offers an impressive assortment of transnational education opportunities, including “20 study abroad and off-campus learning options” (University profile, 2014, para. 17). OC’s international offerings include the European Studies Program, the Asian Studies Summer Program, the Ibaraki (Japan) Exchange Program, and the Korea Christian Exchange Program.

The European Studies Program is offered during the Fall, Spring, and Summer quarters. Students live at the university-owned Das Millicanhaus in Vienna, Austria, and have the opportunity to travel to various countries during the weekend. They can also earn as many academic credits as they would earn if they were still on the home campus in Edmond (European studies, 2014). The Asian Studies Program is offered in the month of May and lasts for six weeks, allowing students to visit Japan, live with a Japanese family while attending Ibaraki Christian University, and then tour various sites in China. Students may earn up to 9 credit hours through this program (Asian studies, 2014).

Two long-term exchange programs differ from other programs in that students actually study at foreign institutions. The Ibaraki Exchange Program allows students to live in their own apartments and interact with the community by living among Japanese citizens. Classes are offered at Ibaraki Christian University, a school located in Hitachi City, Japan; the stay lasts for about eight months, and students can earn academic credits equivalent to two semesters (Long-term, 2014). The second foreign-based opportunity is the Korea Christian Exchange Program. This program allows students to spend the Fall semester in Seoul, South Korea, while studying at Korea Christian University and earning academic credits equivalent to a full semester (Long-term, 2014).

OC included on its study programs dedicated webpage (Study programs, 2014) a link to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities website, encouraging students to sign up for study abroad opportunities not offered by OC (Study programs, 2014), such as the Australia Studies Centre, the China Studies Program, the India Studies Program, the Latin American Studies Program, the Middle East Studies Program, the Oxford Summer Programme, and the Uganda Studies Program (CCCU programs, 2014).

OC’s study abroad programs are impressive in their variety, but also in the student participation rate: “25 percent of graduating seniors have participated in a study abroad program” (University profile, 2014, para. 17). This number is exclusive of student participation in foreign mission opportunities to Australia, Austria, China, Croatia, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Rwanda, and Switzerland (University profile, 2014).

While searching for distance learning programs, the researcher noticed that there were no direct links to online learning, distance learning, or e-learning programs or courses. After a detailed search within the different degree programs’ pages, the researcher found only one degree that was clearly identified as an online degree: the Master of Business Administration (MBA overview, 2014). This degree offers students the option of various tracks, such as accounting, leadership and organizational development, project management, health services management, finance, marketing, and human resources (Specialization courses, 2014). The following degrees offer online classes, but not enough of them for completing the degree entirely online: Master of Accountancy (Master of accountancy, 2014), Master of Theological Studies, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (FAQ, 2014).

The researcher was aware of a partnership between OC and the government of Rwanda, but information about this TNE was unavailable through OC’s website. So the researcher decided to use Google and run a search for “Oklahoma Christian MBA Rwanda” in an attempt to find out details about the program. The search yielded a link to a no longer used OC webpage (Master of Business Administration, 2014) featuring the MBA program offered in Kigali, Rwanda. This program is offered as the result of a partnership between OC and the Rwandan Ministry of Education, and allows students “to earn their MBA degree online in just one year while remaining in Rwanda” (para. 1). OC also opened a learning center in Kigali in an attempt to offer support for its Rwandan MBA students.

Southern Nazarene University

Southern Nazarene University (SNU) is a Christian school located in Bethany, Oklahoma, and affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene (About SNU, 2014). Current enrollment numbers for this university were not available; however, its latest Strategic plan (2009) listed as a goal to “grow graduate and professional students to 2,000” (p. 19). From this number one may estimate that the university has at least 2,000 undergraduate students, but the number could be much higher. SNU currently has 81 international students from over 30 countries (International students, 2014). This international student community includes students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as ASEC (Center for Applied Studies in English), an initiative to “prepare non-native speakers of English to function to the best of their ability both academically and socially at any university level” (Center for applied, 2014, para. 1).

There was no direct link from the main pages to study abroad or exchange programs. After much clicking, the researcher found a link to the Center for Global Engagement (CGE), which exists with the purpose of helping “SNU students identify, make application for, and participate in off-campus academic programs that will help prepare and equip world Christians for service in an expanding global culture and economy” (Center for global, 2014, para. 1). Embedded in the descriptive text, the researcher found a link to the CGE’s domestic and international programs, which included the Australia Studies Centre, the China Studies Program, the Institute for Global Education, the Latin American Studies Program, The Middle East Studies Program, the Morningstar Institute, the Nazarene International Language Institute, the Oxford Summer Programme, the Quetzal Education Research Center, the Scholars’ Semester in Oxford, and the Uganda Studies Program (CGE programs, 2014).

The Australia Studies Centre, located in Sydney, Australia, offers students the opportunity to spend a semester in that country while attending the Wesley Institute for academic credit. The China Studies Program, based in Xiamen, China, lasts a semester, during which students can participate in an internship at an international business. The Institute for Global Education, based in Vienna, Austria, provides students with the opportunity to live in a students’ home surrounded by mostly Europeans, and includes short trips to Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Istanbul (Turkey). The Latin American Studies Program, based in San José, Costa Rica, has students living with Costa Rican families and travelling to other Central American countries while earning academic credits through courses offered in four concentrations.

The Middle East Studies Program, based in Cairo, Egypt, offers interdisciplinary seminars as part of a multicultural learning experience that includes Arabic language and religion. This program also includes travels to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. The Morningstar Institute varies in location from year to year, lasts for a semester, and focuses on the different contexts of economic development. The Nazarene International Language Institute, based in Quito, Ecuador, also lasts a semester and is a partnership with the Nazarene Theological Seminary of South America. Students live on campus, study culture and language at seven different levels, depending on the student’s proficiency. The Oxford Summer Programme, based in Oxford, England, is a summer program that allows students to research various topics and develop their writings skills.

Quetzal Education Research Center, based in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica, offers a Spring semester program that focuses on sustainability and the environment. Students interact with local farmers and scientists while living at the center. The Scholars’ Semester in Oxford program, based in Oxford, England, lasts for a semester with an option to extend it to two semesters. In this program, students draw on the expertise of top scholars as they improve their research and writing skills, especially in relation to English literature, theology, classics, philosophy, and history. And the Ugandan Studies Program, based in Mukono, Uganda, lasts for a semester and allows students to be exposed to many different places in Uganda and Rwanda. Students live on the Uganda Christian University campus if they choose the Uganda Studies Emphasis. If they choose the Intercultural Ministry & Missions Emphasis, students live within walking distance of the campus and stay with local host families (CGE programs, 2014).

SNU featured a prominent link on its home page labeled, “Online learning” (Southern Nazarene University, 2014), which contained information about all online classes and degree programs offered by the university. SNU used to offer associates degrees online, but that is no longer the case (Associate’s, 2014). There were two undergraduate degrees currently available to be completed entirely online: Organizational Leadership and Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Two other degrees were scheduled to be offered beginning in early 2015: Business Administration (March) and Network Management (April). And there were three graduate degrees offered entirely online: Master of Business Administration, Master of Business Administration in Health Care, and Master of Sport Management and Administration (Earn your, 2014). There were also 26 individual courses scheduled to be offered online between January and June, 2015 (Individual courses, 2014).

Discussion

In her guide published by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning, Knight (2006) presented two main groups that were active in TNE: programs and providers. In the context of TNE, the cross-border mobility of providers was defined as “the physical or virtual movement of an education provider (institution, organization, company) across a national border to establish a presence in order to offer education/training programs and/or services to students and other clients” (p. 25). According to Knight (2006), there are six different modes of provider mobility across borders: “branch campus,” (p. 25) when the provider establishes a branch campus in another country; “independent institution,” (p. 26) when the provider establishes an independent institution abroad with no direct links to the provider; “acquisition/merger,” (p. 26) when the provider merges with or acquires full ownership of a foreign institution; “study centre/teaching site,” (p. 26) when the provider establishes a learning center or teaching location in a foreign country; “affiliation/networks,” (p. 26) when the provider partners with a foreign institution; and “virtual university,” (p. 26) when the provider uses distance education, mainly via the Internet, to deliver credit courses to students living in other countries.

Christian universities in central Oklahoma are involved in provider cross-border mobility. SNU’s Australia Studies Centre, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Oxford Summer Programme, Quetzal Education Research Center, Scholars’ Semester in Oxford, and the Ugandan Studies Program are all examples of provider cross-border mobility that fall into the affiliation/networks mode (Knight, 2006). Other examples of this mode of cross-border mobility include OC’s Asian Studies Program, Ibaraki Exchange Program, and Korea Christian Exchange Program. OC clearly has an opportunity to expand its offerings and partner with foreign institutions in other locations, as Churches of Christ now have college-level schools located worldwide in addition to Bible institutes and schools of preaching (Directory, 2014). Future research may focus on the level of interest that OC students have in other areas of the world, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) or other developing regions.

OBU does not seem to be active in the provider modes of TNE, which is surprising considering the prominence given to study abroad opportunities on its website. The array of international opportunities available to OBU students conforms to the university’s mission statement: “As a Christian liberal arts university, OBU transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world, and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ” (Mission, 2014, para. 1). It would seem reasonable for OBU to explore the provider mode further and establish special partnerships with foreign universities and other institutions, while maintaining its affiliation with third-party providers.

Knight (2006) also proposed several modes of cross-border program mobility, which she defined as “the movement of individual education/training courses and programs across national borders through face-to-face, distance or a combination of these modes. Credits towards a qualification can be awarded by the sending foreign country provider or by an affiliated domestic partner or jointly” (p. 23). There are six modes of program cross-border mobility: “franchise,” (p. 23), when the provider authorizes a foreign provider to deliver its programs or courses in the foreign country; “twinning,” (p. 24) when a provider collaborates with a foreign institution and allows credits taken at both locations to count towards a degree issued by the provider; “double/joint degree,” (p. 24) when students receive degrees from both the provider and its foreign partner; “articulation,” (p. 24) when the provider and a foreign institution have an agreement that allows students to take courses for credit at both institutions; “validation,” (p. 24) when the foreign institution awards the degree offered by the provider; and “virtual/distance,” (p. 24) when the provider offers a program or courses via distance learning, mainly via the Internet, sometimes providing support via a local learning center.

OC’s Master of Business Administration in Rwanda, Africa, is an example of the virtual/distance mode, in that students take classes online with OC professors based in Edmond, Oklahoma, but have a local learning center in Kigali, Rwanda, that offers Internet access and computers for student use (Master of Business Administration, 2014). SNU’s online degree offerings are also an example of this mode of TNE, in that students may complete, from anywhere in the world, their undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership, or their graduate degrees in Business Administration, Business Administration in Health Care, or Sport Management and Administration (Earn your, 2014). OBU also offers a Master of Business Administration that can be completed from anywhere in the world (Online general, 2014). This is probably the area that offers the most potential growth for all three universities: by expanding their offerings via distance education, these providers can extend the reach of their programs beyond the local capacity of dorms and classrooms, recruiting students who otherwise would never have direct contact with the institution. SNU has done a great job in featuring online learning opportunities on its website, but OC and OBU need to improve the visibility of this learning modality by including direct links on its main webpages.

Twinning, double/joint degree, and validation also seem to be modes that central Oklahoma Christian universities could use to expand their offerings and number of potential students; but these modes would require close scrutiny in order for them to be aligned with each institution’s mission and vision. OC and SNU, for instance, emphasize the idea of “community” (About SNU, 2014, para. 1; University profile, 2014, para. 1) in their mission statements. Since building a cohesive community requires close interaction (Jason, 1997), these modes would require a special effort and dedication to community building through sound leadership. Future research may investigate how universities decide to expand virtually and what dictates the success or failure of such programs.

Conclusion

Higher education has been greatly impacted by globalization, especially in light of technology and communications developments. Institutions of higher learning have sought different means of expanding their student base while fulfilling their own mission. TNE initiatives may not always happen in alignment with the mission statement, and therefore special care is required in the implementation of different modes of transnational education initiatives. Christian universities in central Oklahoma have used TNE as a means of reaching out to students in other countries; they have also used TNE to offer opportunities to its own local students to interact with a globalized world by visiting distant regions and earning academic credit while learning about different cultures and languages. There certainly is a lot of room for expansion by central Oklahoma Christian universities in the TNE arena, especially in the virtual/distance mode, but also in other TNE modes that are underrepresented in these institutions offerings, such as twinning, double/joint degree, and validation.

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