Should Christian Universities be Free?

There’s a belief floating around that education from Christian private universities should be heavily subsidised or free as the schools were built from the tithes and offerings of church members. This is my response:

I cannot categorically state whether Christian schools were built from the offerings of church members as I am not privy to their books. However, even though I haven’t seen the numbers, I’m convinced that if a school is built from offerings, it cannot be sustained by them. Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Columbia or any of the top Ivy League schools founded by Christian platforms have built massive endowments over the years yet still charge premium fees. Perhaps we should advocate for free tuition there too.

Now, I understand the frustration with the financial excesses of some pastors and the social inequality that sometimes attends churches. However, one should not use a social justice or accountability narrative to argue an economic issue.

Perhaps if we can provide a business case for subsidised Christian schools, we can then put forward a basis to support the provision of free education by the church. Even in the military, tuition is subsidised for children of armed servicemen but children of civilians pay full fees in Nigeria. Should we adopt a similar model for Christian schools – charge non-Christians while subsidising those whose Parents pay tithe? Will this not go against the Christian value of charity?

While I salute the historical contributions of Missionary Schools to Nigeria, I also recognise that many of them are no longer free. We should investigate what changed and query the failing business model of Nigeria’s ineffective public schools today. We should examine the best globally run public schools and cross-reference their country population figures. Can those nations afford free public education because their citizens are relatively few?

Fundamental principles of economics tell me that as quality increases, price tends to do so as well. To provide qualitative free education, the institution must not only bear the sunk cost of infrastructure but the recurrent cost of salaries. Great teachers are rare in Nigeria. Teaching standards have fallen across board for years, as evidenced by reports from the Federal Ministry of Education. Hence, economic laws of scarcity have kicked in. Educationists will tell you it is teachers and curriculum that define quality education and not infrastructure. Tithes and offerings may pay for initial set up costs. However, who pays for maintenance and recurrent expenditure thereafter? Switzerland, a nation with the world’s highest paid teachers ($68,000 per annum) has a population that is 0.0000044% of Nigeria’s. Their GINI Coefficient (the gap between the rich and the poor) is 0.4. Ours is 49. In Nigeria, government is the biggest spender in the economy. Government’s major source of income comes from one source, oil. Government cannot afford to pay salaries talk less of fund education sustainably, yet we miraculously expect offerings and tithes to do so.

I think what is required in the education sector is innovative economic models that can ensure the masses are educated and not impassioned pleas for religious institutions to look only to the welfare of their members because they pay tithes.

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