By Keith Knepp
NAPPANEE — Like everything else these days, the cost of going to college is skyrocketing. Earning a degree can saddle a student with enormous debt. This sticker shock has led many to seek other avenues to their futures.
One local option may not require as much driving or money. Bethel University at Nappanee Missionary Church, also known as BU@NMC, began four years ago as a way to earn a two- or four-year diploma. Currently, the program offers nine different degree options.
In 2020, Bethel had been seeking ways to “broaden their map.” One idea was to create extension sites. NMC launched their program that fall with 14 students in partnership with the school.
“We wanted it to be an opportunity to disciple and grow young adults in their faith walk,” said Pastor Terry Bley, one of the program’s visionaries.
The tuition cost per academic year — including up to 34 total credit hours of accredited classes — is $10,500. The degree received comes from Bethel University and carries the same clout as those awarded to those who choose an on-campus experience.
“There are four things I want everyone to know,” said Bley. “First, financially it just makes sense. Second, it creates flexibility. Third, we have an opportunity to be on our campus to interact with people who are disciplers. Fourth, we have a community that really does care for each other.”
Students have the opportunity to perform a practicum — a chance to work with someone already in their desired field — and earn three credit hours each semester toward their degree. They also participate in two outreach ministries each semester, in which they perform community service in different locales.
While approximately 60% of the students enrolled have some affiliation with the church, others from further away learned of the program and chose to enroll.
The church can provide housing in two homes for a limited number of students, who rent the space directly from the church.
NMC also has a building exclusively for the students. Within it there are a variety spaces catering to different studying styles.
Classroom work is accomplished in several ways. Students often join lectures and classes online. Sometimes, instructors will come to Nappanee to lecture. Much of the students’ work is done through independent study, in collaboration with Bethel professors.
Students in the program are asked to be on the church campus Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A live chapel service each Tuesday is led by students and features speakers from the church and the community.
“We started with 14,” said Troy Phillips, who has been with the program since its beginning. “Now were in the upper 30s. There’s been a gradual growth. It’s been really cool to see where the students have landed. This has been an opportunity for them to grasp a little more vision behind where they want to go with their career. Now, four years in, we’re starting to see the investment playing out in its actual long-term vision.”
“If you’re interested in any degree, we’ll take you for a year,” said Bley. “Come give us a year, we’ll give you a taste of whatever you’re interested in studying, and we’ll give you an education while you’re doing it. If we don’t have your degree and this isn’t the place you want to land, give us two years and we’ll get you an associate’s degree that is fully accredited and transferable. We’ll then help you to wherever you want to go.
“We’re reaching kids that Bethel on campus wouldn’t. We’re reaching some low-income kids. We are finding a niche for home-school kids who aren’t really excited about doing the on-campus living and are finding that this is a really good setting to be in a community, but have the safety pieces of being close to home. We’re also reaching the kids who took a gap year and didn’t really know how to come back in.”
For more information about the program, visit buatnmc.com.