The mission of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. While much of the work of the Council consists of advancing Christian higher education through advocacy, professional development, and collaboration, it most directly transforms lives through its off-campus student programs. More specifically, the purpose of BestSemester programs is to extend the educational mission of our campuses by providing culturally-engaging learning experiences that foster students’ intellectual and spiritual growth and equip them to live out their Christian faith in the world. In other words, CCCU student programs empower students to obey the Great Commandment—to love God and love their neighbor—and to fulfill the Great Commission to extend the redemptive work of the Kingdom throughout the world.
BestSemester programs operate on the pedagogical principle that transformative Christian education occurs not simply through conveying information but through a rich, complex interaction of ideas, experiences, reflective practices, and communal relationships. Students learn not just by acquiring information but by being immersed in new settings that create changed practices. Moreover, habits that are developed over an extended period of time in community with others deeply shape students’ perception of the world and their actions in it. Thus, a semester-long immersion experience in another culture is one of the most powerful educational practices that one can experience.
While each off-campus program applies this philosophy of experiential education in different ways, these common traits characterize them all:
Christian community. Whether students live in community together or with host families, BestSemester programs provide students with the opportunity to deepen their faith through Christian community and to grow in their awareness of the theological and cultural diversity of the global church.
Faith-integrated academic content. CCCU programs integrate Christian content and perspectives throughout the educational and cultural aspects of the program. Spiritual growth often occurs in new and challenging situations; thus, CCCU programs intentionally steer these experiences toward Christian reflection and spiritual growth.
Rigorous and experientially-based educational practices. CCCU programs embody academic rigor in different ways. Our aim is not to replicate what can be achieved in our CCCU campus classrooms. Rather, in a variety of ways, our experiential learning focus places students in challenging situations that demand their best work, whether that is teaming together for a concert tour or completing a personal tutorial with an Oxford scholar.
Authentic engagement with local communities in cross-cultural or professional cultural contexts. CCCU programs foster intellectual, spiritual, and professional growth by immersing students in new communities that require significant interaction with others, and by requiring deep reflection, both individually and communally, on those immersion experiences. For some programs, that community is a radically different cultural environment. Other programs induct students into a new professional or scholarly culture with its own special norms, customs, and expectations.
Operational excellence. BestSemester programs have a forty-year history of operational excellence in student safety, risk management, study abroad protocols, and close communication with CCCU sending campuses.
In addition to exhibiting common traits, CCCU student programs are located in strategic regions in the world that reflect the Council’s educational goals. Some locations, such as East Africa and Latin America, are areas of vibrant religious growth and theological ferment where the future leadership of the global church is being forged. Other locations, such as the Middle East and Australia, are areas of considerable religious, racial, or cultural diversity where the tensions regarding faith and identity that will characterize future societies are most evident today. Finally, programs in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Oxford place students in centers of global influence in terms of political institutions, media and entertainment, and academic culture.
Employing robust Christian pedagogical practices in strategic locales throughout the world, CCCU student programs play an important role in advancing the overall mission of the Council.