Online Christian colleges and universities offer flexible higher education grounded in faith.
Christian Online colleges includes:
- Nondenominational and interfaith colleges
- Denominational colleges
- Catholic universities
- Bible colleges
Within each of these 4 categories, you might find a variety of paths of study, approaches to higher education, and guiding missions. Despite their differences, each one shares a dedication to Christ-centered education, and aims to support students as they develop their spiritual lives.
Types of Online Christian Colleges and Universities
Not all online Christian colleges are the same. Their guiding philosophies, faith traditions, and degree programs they offer could all vary. Differences could depend on the types of students they aim to serve and their overall mission.
For example, some schools might deliver theological and ministry-oriented education. These schools may primarily aim to help students work toward religious careers. Other schools might offer a more secular experience, though potentially surrounded by like-minded people of similar faiths.
Online Christian Colleges Specific to One Faith Tradition
Some online Christian colleges are rooted in one specific Christian denomination. They usually aim primarily to serve students within that tradition. Pew Research breaks down approximately 100 distinct Christian traditions in the United States alone. As a result, there is considerable variety in the types of schools available.
How each individual school chooses to address its faith tradition may vary, depending on the goals, school culture, and the students they’re hoping to attract. Some Christian colleges online may weave that religious perspective into all their courses. They may also espouse certain related social values (such as conservatism, humanitarianism, etc.) and design their school culture around that. Others may be more relaxed, with some professors of other faiths and a somewhat secular approach.
Indiana Wesleyan University
Indiana Wesleyan University, as the name implies, is associated with the Wesleyan Church. This is reflected in their mission, vision, and values. IWU is dedicated to offering their students a Christ-centered education. They aim to foster commitment, leadership, service, stewardship, and innovation.
Indiana Wesleyan is also the largest member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Though the school has a Wesleyan heritage, students come from more than 80 Christian denominations. They have also served students from 10 foreign countries.
IWU offers more than 80 undergraduate degree options, and 38 graduate degrees. Of these, 5 are doctoral programs. IWU also has a robust adult education program, which serves more than 10,000 learners in three states and online.
Ohio Christian University
Ohio Christian University was founded in 1948 as Circleville Bible College. Today, they have expanded their offerings to include a variety of non-religious subject areas. However, they retain their Christian identity and are associated with The Churches of Christ in Christian Union. They’re even recognized by the Association for Biblical Higher Education.
OCU works to uphold their commitment to offering students an intellectually, professionally, and spiritually enriching educational experience. They have more than 4,000 students in residential and online programs. That includes undergraduate, graduate, and adult learning programs.
Non-Denominational and Interfaith Christian Colleges
Non Denominational Christian Colleges emphasize a Christian belief system. They also welcome students and faculty of a variety of Christian backgrounds, rather than teaching according to one unique denomination. As with denominational colleges, their Christian identity may in some cases be woven into the curriculum across subject areas. In other cases, it may only inform the faith-based services offered, religious or theological courses, and overall school culture.
It’s important to note that this category may encompass more types of schools than are ordinarily considered “non-denominational.” Some schools may adhere to a non-denominational tradition. Other online colleges in this category may simply not adhere to a particular faith but rather Christianity in general. Some interdenominational schools may instead cater primarily to a specific family of denominations. One example of this may be online Evangelical colleges, which may encompass a variety of specific Evangelical faiths.
Grand Canyon University
While Grand Canyon University was founded in 1949 as a Baptist university, today they identify as interdenominational and welcome students of all backgrounds. They retain their Christian heritage and bible-focused mission. GCU is committed to living out their Christian identity through community-oriented service. They integrate Christian faith, education, and service into their programs, while also welcoming students, faculty, and staff from all belief systems.
Grand Canyon University serves undergraduate and graduate students from all walks of life, both on campus and through online programs. They do so through discipline-specific colleges, each of which offers a range of related academic programs at multiple levels. They aim to foster effective communication, responsible leadership, critical thinking, and global citizenship.
Liberty University is a Christian university rooted in Evangelical tradition. This informs their philosophy of education and their mission, both of which dedicate the university to developing the whole person through a Christ-centered higher education. Their mission statement dedicates them to encouraging a commitment to Christianity and a Christian lifestyle, through faith and social responsibility. They are also a member of the Association of Christian Schools International.
Liberty offers students more than 550 programs of study. Students could earn associate, bachelors, masters, and even doctorate degrees, as well as certificates. 200 of these programs are even offered online. And each of them is grounded in Christian perspective.
Unlike denominational and non-denominational online Christian colleges, online bible colleges specifically center on theology, ministry, and bible studies training. Often, they do not offer degree or certificate programs outside this area.
Bible colleges are often, though not always, denominational. The difference between denominational Christian colleges and online bible colleges is the narrower focus on religious training and ministry. If a bible college does have a denominational affiliation, this could have a significant impact on the way their programs approach biblical scholarship and related topics.
Catholic Colleges & Universities
Online Catholic Colleges are often treated as distinct from other online Christian colleges. Within this category, there may be considerable diversity of mission and general educational philosophy. In some cases, this could be influenced by the religious order with which the school is affiliated. Some Catholic universities may resemble secular schools outside of ministry and religious-specific education. Others might offer education specifically rooted in Catholic teaching and perspective. Schools along those lines might offer additional degree program options specific to Catholic lay ministry, ordained clergy, or other religious careers.
St. Joseph's University
Saint Joseph’s University, or SJU, is a Catholic Jesuit university in Philadelphia, PA. They offer a liberal arts education with a goal of educating the whole person, and fostering an inclusive and diverse community. They also encourage engaged citizenship, critical thinking, ethics, and social justice rooted in Catholic tradition. And they’ve been offering all this since they were founded over 160 years ago.
Today, St. Joseph’s University offers 55 undergraduate major programs, and 52 graduate programs. They also offer a variety of unique opportunities to support student learning and growth. This includes:
- study abroad
- an honors program
- service learning
- faith-justice studies
SJU serves more than 8,000 students, and boasts more than 66,000 alumni.
What to Look For in Online Christian Colleges and Universities
Because there is so much variety in online Christian colleges and universities, it’s important to narrow down what exactly you’re looking for. This may help you ensure that your online Christian college of choice aligns with your goals, preferences, and (if this is an important factor to you) your beliefs.
To help you get started in this process, here are four questions to ask yourself while you’re looking.
- Am I looking for an online Christian college rooted in a specific tradition, or something more broadly non-denominational?
- Am I looking for a school whose curriculum and educational philosophy is directly informed by Christianity or my denomination? Or do I want a more secular scholarship?
- Am I looking for a school culture that aligns with certain social positions, philosophies, or values related to my faith? If so, which ones?
- Am I looking for a specific Christianity-related degree program, such as bible scholarship, ministry, religious education, or apologetics? Or do I want to study a more secular subject area in a Christian school?
By thinking about your educational goals and personal values, you could focus your college search, and work to find online Christian universities that support your interests. Don’t be afraid to reach out to schools and ask them questions about their philosophy, learning environment, school culture, and curriculum to make sure the ones you apply to align with the things you’re looking for.