If all goes as planned, Rapid City will have a new college by fall of 2012.
John Witherspoon College is set to open its doors and begin offering two associate degrees -- one in Christian studies and another in humanities -- by next year, said president C. Richard Wells, PhD. The college will also offer a one-year diploma in Christian world view studies.
The college has signed a contract to purchase the Abiding Word Lutheran Church on Range Road for the new college. Fundraising is under way to make that happen, Wells said.
Wells served as senior pastor at South Canyon Baptist Church for 5-1/2 years before accepting a position at Union University in Tennessee in 2009. During his time in the Black Hills, Wells said discussions were ongoing about the possibility of a Christian college.
“The vision of the college … really pre-dates my coming to the Black Hills,” he said. “But I began to take a real interest in and felt definitely God was leading us in this direction.”
South Canyon began by creating a Black Hills Biblical Institute in 2004. The Institute was established to serve ministers as well as the general population, offering courses in Bible, theology and ministry subjects.
In 2008, Institute trustees voted to take the next step and move forward with a college, Wells said.
The first step was changing a state law which prohibited such a college from offering credit or degrees without regional accreditation, which didn’t apply to a college like Witherspoon, Wells said. In 2009, the state Legislature passed an amendment to the statute and former Gov. Mike Rounds signed it into law.
“Since then, we have been laying the foundation,” he said. “The first thing was to design a curriculum … that’s been done.”
With the associate degrees offered initially, Wells said the college will hopefully be able to offer a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree by 2014. Wells’ current employer, Union University, will serve as an umbrella university for Witherspoon. Courses will be accredited through Union.
Wells said Witherspoon is named for John Witherspoon, the sixth president of Princeton University in New Jersey. He calls Witherspoon “the forgotten founding father.” The college’s logo features Witherspoon’s elegant “W” as it was signed on the Declaration of Independence. “He was one of the leaders of the revolution,” Wells said.
Wells said the college will be based on four core values -- Bible anchored, Christ centered, people focused and kingdom driven. He said New St. Andrews College in Idaho would be considered a model for the type of institution Witherspoon hopes to become.
The college will be “a small community where faculty knows the students and the close relationships with them,” Wells said.
Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.