Ecclesia College describes itself as a Christian “work learning” college located in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). Founded in 1975 by Oren Paris II as a training center for young missionaries, Ecclesia was accredited as a four-year college in 2005, with a strong emphasis in Christian faith and character, work ethic, mentoring, and service. In 2017, the college became embroiled in a scandal regarding the redirection of General Improvement Fund (GIF) money by state legislators to the small college.
Ecclesia College is a branch of the “Ecclesia Network.” Ecclesia, the parent organization, was incorporated in 1976 and has participated in Christian service worldwide through ministries such as Youth With a Mission (a one-year training program), Twila Paris Productions, Bibles for the Nations, Living Alternatives, Elm Springs Christian School, Ecclesia Children’s Ministries, Ecclesia Relief and Development, Ecclesia College, and Ecclesia Prep.
Founder Oren Paris II, educated in music and theology at Southwestern University and Texas Wesleyan University, established Ecclesia College in order to provide students a deeper understanding of the Bible and various academic disciplines before entering their professional lives, including as international missionaries. Inductive Bible study was an integral part of the training program from the beginning, but Paris envisioned the existing one-year training schools ultimately transitioning into an accredited, four-year program. From 1975 through 1995, an increasing number of academic classes were offered. Although not yet accredited by 1995, the college offered enough Bible and other classes to make up its first full four-year degree—the Bachelor of Biblical Studies.
In 1996, Ecclesia College applied for accreditation through the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) and, after a nine-year self-study process, was granted accreditation in 2005. ABHE is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and by the Council for Higher Education and Accreditation (CHEA).
In March 1997, Ecclesia’s board of governance inaugurated Oren Paris III as the president of Ecclesia. (Oren Paris II served as chancellor from 2003 until his death in June 2012.) Under his leadership, the campus expanded to 200 acres, with extensive plans for growth and development, including an expansion of classrooms and a new dormitory in 2013.
Ecclesia College became a liberal arts school in 2007 and now offers a variety of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, with an emphasis in biblical studies and ministry-related fields. In 2013, Ecclesia College’s student body was approximately 200 students, with about half studying online. It was announced in February 2016 that classes would be offered in the school’s new David Barton College of Political Science in fall 2016.
Ecclesia College advertises itself as making a private Christian higher education available to Christian students, regardless of their financial background. This is accomplished to a great extent through the college’s Work Learning Program, which significantly offsets educational expenses.
On March 2, 2017, federal charges were filed against President Oren Paris III, as well as state Senator Jon Woods of Springdale and Randell Shelton Jr. According to the indictment, from 2013 to 2015, Woods and state Representative Micah Neal, also of Springdale, directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money from the GIF to Ecclesia College in order to enrich Paris, who paid bribes back to the legislators through a company set up by Shelton. Rep. Neal had already pleaded guilty by the time of the indictment and was cooperating with government investigators. On April 4, 2018, before a trial that was scheduled to begin the following week, Paris also pleaded guilty. The following month, Woods was found guilty on fifteen of seventeen accounts. His trial revealed that the college had been experiencing financial distress by January 2015 and had taken out a $1 million line of credit backed by two properties purchased in 2013 using public funds. Woods had also sponsored Act 417 of 2015, which allowed money from the General Improvement Fund to be directed to colleges that were part of the national “Work College Consortium,” of which Ecclesia was the only Arkansas member; Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the bill into law.
For additional information:
Dungan, Tracie. “4-Year Degrees Widen Bible College’s Range.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 12, 2009, pp. 1B, 8B.
Ecclesia College. http://www.ecollege.edu (accessed October 27, 2021).
Friedman, Mark. “Ecclesia Fallout: $612K Lawsuit.” Arkansas Business, October 29–November 1, 2020, pp. 1, 9.
Thompson, Doug. “Governor Signed Bill Geared to 1 College.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 26, 2018, pp. 1A, 3A.
Waldon, George. “DOE Visits Another Woe on Ecclesia.” Arkansas Business, August 7–13, 2017, pp. 12–13.
Wood, Ron. “New Plaintiff Attempts to Take over Ecclesia Suit.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 21, 2020, p. 2B.
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