Bible colleges (sometimes referred to as Bible institutes or Theological Institute) are Protestant Christian institutions of higher education that prepare students for Christian ministry with theological education, Biblical studies and practical ministry training.
Bible colleges primarily offer undergraduate degrees, but may also offer graduate degrees, lower-level associate degrees, certificates or diplomas in specialized areas of Christian training where a full degree is not required.
Bible colleges can be found throughout the world but are concentrated in North America. The South Pacific Association of Evangelical Colleges claimed that more than half of all Protestant missionaries in the world were graduates of Bible Colleges.
In North America, there are over 1,200 post-secondary Bible institutes. The Association for Biblical Higher Education asserts that Bible colleges produce "a large percentage of North American evangelical missionaries and serve as a primary training center for local church leadership". In 1997, there were 400 Bible colleges, representing 31,000 students, in the United States and Canada. According to Theology-Degrees.com, there were over 300 accredited Bible colleges in the United States in 2012. There are around 200 post-secondary Bible institutions throughout North America that are affiliated with the Association for Biblical Higher Education. The Moody Bible Institute was one of the first Bible institutes to be established.
Bible colleges are usually associated with evangelical, conservative holiness, Christian fundamentalist, or Pentecostal Protestant denominations.[note 1] Their primary purpose is to prepare people for roles in Christian ministry. The Bible-centered curriculum is typically supplemented by structured programs of Christian service.
In the United States and Canada, the origins of the Bible college movement are in the late 19th century Bible Institute movement. The first Bible schools in North America were founded by A. B. Simpson (Nyack College in 1882) of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and D. L. Moody (Moody Bible Institute in 1887). Many were established as a reaction against established theological colleges and seminaries, which conservatives believed were becoming increasingly liberal and undermining traditional Christian teachings, such as Biblical inerrancy.
The American Bible college movement developed in reaction to the secularization of U.S. higher education. The "Bible institute/college movement" has been described as "a protest to the inroads of secularization in higher education and as a base for the education of lay workers and full-time Bible teachers, evangelists, and pastors". As one historian put it, "It is not a coincidence that the Bible institute movement grew up during the very period when the philosophy of naturalism became prevalent in American education". Between 1882 and 1920, 39 Bible schools were founded in the United States.
Bible colleges generally confer bachelor's degrees, most often in biblical studies and various divisions of Christian ministry, pastoral ministry and worship ministry or church music. Some Bible colleges offer degree programs in ministry-related areas that also have secular application, such as Christian education.
At some Bible colleges, associate's degrees, diplomas, or certificates are available. These programs are generally designed for laypersons (such as Sunday School teachers) who neither want nor need a bachelor's degree to perform their Christian service, but who desire additional training in such areas as Bible studies or the teachings and practices of their denomination.
Many Bible colleges in the United States and Canada that offer intercollegiate athletic programs are members of the National Christian College Athletic Association or the Association of Christian College Athletics.
Each country has its own governmental process for approval or accreditation of higher education. The Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) accredits many Bible colleges in the United States. Bible colleges may also be accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, by regional accreditors, or by international counterparts. About 25 U.S. Bible colleges hold accreditation by regional accreditors, which accredit most academically oriented colleges and universities in the United States.
In the UK, from 2007 to 2012, all Bible colleges (along with all independent colleges of higher education) needed to be accredited under the authority of UK Border Agency by either the British Accreditation Council (BAC) or Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC). The government then changed this in 2012 to the need to have compulsory "Education Oversight" from organisations such as QAA, ISI and Bridge Schools Inspectorate.
In the United States, many Bible colleges and institutes purposefully operate without conventional educational accreditation, or even governmental licensing. These institutions typically claim exemption due to the religious nature of their programs, that involving an outside agency in this capacity would compromise or limit their theological mission.
In the United States the average salary for a full professor at a Bible institute was around $49,000 in 2012. The student-to-faculty ratio is around 13 students to one instructor.