Ever since the advent of universities and other schools by Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, argument and criticism have trailed what is regarded as exorbitant fees being asked of prospective students. One would have thought that the endless criticism by the public would cause the management of those schools to adjust-downwards but the reverse has been the case. Despite the crunchy economic situation in the country, as well as harrowing admission process associated with the public best institutions, respite seems not to be in sight for the teeming prospective students who long to get a taste of the quality education on offer at the private institutions.
Talking about private institutions, there are tens of them around, charging unduly high fees but critics focus their arsenal mainly on Pentecostal churches’ institutions. It is not uncommon to see the social media agog with all manner of insults against the leaders and overseers of the churches that founded those schools and anyone who tries to counter the opinion of the public gets their fingers burnt.
Top on the basis for this criticism is the fact that those schools were supposedly founded from the proceeds of tithes and offerings given to the churches by members. The opinion is that, the poor members, having sacrificed their substances for years could not afford to get their wards schooled in those institutions that were built with their money.
Correlations are also drawn between schools established by orthodox churches, how affordable they are inspite of the high standard they offer. Church leaders are been accused of promoting class in the Christian community, taking undue advantage of the ‘sheep’, and establishing business empires as against the tenet of their calling and the will of God.
However, certain critical questions come to mind while considering this controversy. Is the public’s criticism totally correct? Are the high fees asked by the churches’ schools justifiable? What should be the churches response to the public vilification in this regard? Could the solutions to these conundrums ensure a way forward? Let’s take a look at the following points.
"Why did they establish schools when they know they can’t make it affordable…?" I’m sure you are familiar with such questions. An educational institution must be sustainable, so it requires a sustainable source of funding. A sustainable organization is one whose existence generates enough income for its present and future running in an ongoing cycle. Sustainability connotes enduring existence, or functioning properly over an infinite period of time.
That is why educational organizations are under a strict statutory regulation. They must be licensed, certified and approved through a thorough process and a continuum of processes. It’s a fact that school is more regulated than church. Managing a school is more objective than managing a church. Activities related to churches are voluntary, sentimental, or faith-based but activities related to schools are obligatory. Therefore schools cannot keep going back to its founding church to foot their bills. That is absolutely unsustainable!
School managements are liable under statutes for infringements on their obligations and promises to their patrons. But anything can happen in church as long as it does not infringe on people’s fundamental human rights. Running a school cannot be subjected to the changes that may occur in a church. For instance, members are not under any mandate to attend a church or give offering, it is on their own volition. No reasonable leader would have founded a school on a plan to run it on church’s income. In fact, if the fixed assets had been funded from church’s account, it makes sense to have taken such as a free loan to be paid back as the school generates income over the years. Take a look at the modern day church environment, programs, missionary projects, benevolence, bills, overheads and so on. Weekly expenses of the church is so high that the public should not think that schools could be sustainably funded from church’s income.
Even, a not-for-profit organization does not have to be a "for-loss" organization! In an environment as ours, where social amenities and infrastructures have to be provided by individuals rather than by government; where ease of doing business is far-fetched; where inflation is perennially northward, cost management is a conundrum. Costs mix include fixed cost, overhead, running cost among others.
Have you stopped to consider how much it costs to build those amazing edifice in institutions of learning? Hundreds of millions! What about furniture and fittings; science, technology and engineering equipment and machinery that aid learning? Hundreds of millions! Have you thought about the cost of generating regular power and water supply in institutions throughout academic sessions? What about the cost of modern facilities and serene environment like internet, library, vehicles, air condition and the likes, which makes an average student feel proud? To crown it all, cost of direct and indirect labour.
Have you ever heard their teachers, lecturers, or non-academic staff complaining or embarking on industrial action? No! Its an indication that their personnel are well remunerated. Those private schools attract the best of brains among academic personnel around the world. And those guys don’t offer their services on charity. I once heard the chancellor of the Covenant University said, their lecturers are on a salary scale similar to that of Harvard. All of these costs among others which obviously run in several hundreds of millions could not possibly be sourced from the church’s account.
The schools have to be able to cater to their own cost sustainably. Hence, cost management amidst unfavourable business environment requires objectivity. At least they must break even, and who should bear the cost, if not the customers.
Not for Nothing
The school fees are exorbitant! But have prospective students stopped patronizing them? The answer is no. Because the quality is there to justify the cost. Although, the serious shortfall in the ratio of schools to applicants has engender desperate attitude in the prospects to gain admission to any school available, church’s schools have consistently raised the bars of quality education over the years. So, it’s not for nothing!
Ask the incumbent students and their parents whether they are getting value for their money and you will get affirmative response. Recently, a popular on air personality, Jimi Disu could not help but publicly commend a particular church university for the quality he has repeatedly observed in the graduates of that school. He was quite impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit and how soon they started to generate income after their graduation. Those schools possess excellence in terms of service, environment, facilities and personnel. It could also be observed that graduates of church’s schools are highly employable, they are the priority-hire to organizations in the labour market.
So, Why Did They Establish Schools If They Can’t Make it Affordable?
Part of the reasons have been explained above. Let me now address another basis for public criticism of the high fees being charged by church’s schools. Comparison with orthodox churches. It’s all about the sources of funding. Churches like Catholic and Anglican have existed for centuries, and history reveals that it was not so from the beginning.
Those missions had churned out several thousands of high net-worth individuals over their several years of existence. Those high net-worth individuals together with their families and organizations live in a culture that believes in giving back to the society. In essence, they frontier the legacy of egalitarianism rather than individual amassing of wealth that is prevalent in our own environment. So where they have the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation etc. as well as their government budgeting a substantial percentage for education, orthodox churches have robust sources of funding from grants to warrant a highly subsidized fees in their education centers across the world.
In our part of the world, non of the Pentecostal church’s school is up to a century old, so we are still full of potentials, the high fees of today will not always be the same. Also, I am yet to see a foundation giving grants to education sector apart from a number of scholarships here-and-there. Whereas UNESCO recommends that, at least 26 per cent of public expenditure should go to education sector, FGN budgeted a meager 6.01% while all the states planned a miserable total of 10.7% of their combined budgets in 2016. Overall, in the absence of such generosity towards the education sector in our own world, who then should bear the cost of quality education? Of course, the consumers!
Not Without Comfort Though
Recently, I heard the founder of Love Home Orphanage said, one of their inmates got the school’s scholarship that spans his entire study for coming top of his class at the Redeemers University for Nations. It is comforting to note that there exist a pockets of scholarships here and there at church’s schools. It’s not free for all though, it’s not just on the basis of been indigent, you have to merit it.
In conclusion, the high fees being charged by church’s schools may continue for a long time if our environment remains as it is. That said, we should note that the high fees itself is not sustainable, therefore the situation is bound to change in the coming decades. In the meantime, founders of church’s schools should address their prospective public with empathy. Founding a school is a social contract, in contrast to founding a church. They should know that an average critic desires to patronize them if he/she can afford it. And they should model a proper customer handling skill to their church followers. An excellent customer manager persuades the prospects to buy his product despite their complain of high cost. Even Jesus does not speak harsh words to His prospects, rather He persuades them.
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