Reshaping the Higher Education Paradigm: A 100X Interview with Eric Blum
“Honestly, I didn’t think you had a chance.”
Students at Oak Valley graduate in three years with a bachelor’s degree in business. The school shaved an entire year off of the traditional four-year degree program by scheduling classes year-round. “But here’s the kicker,” says Blum, “it’s debt-free and students entering next year will pay around $15,000 to earn the entire degree.”
Blum says that the school has occasionally been compared to the iconic business model In-N-Out. It is true that Oak Valley College does one thing, we do it well, and we do it affordably, says Blum.
A Need for a New College Model
Blum has spent a career in higher education. He is an expert at knowing how the sausage is made in the world of college. For more than 25 years, Blum worked for big schools including UCLA, UC Riverside, and University of Redlands. Eventually, he tired of hearing stories of students suffering under the weight of student loan debts. They typically balloon to $90,000, $150,000, or even more. According to Blum, these students loved their education, but they began to realize that their future was being mortgaged for decades to come.
So Blum began to dream about a different way to do college. Oak Valley College is the realization of that dream. Students attend classes from 2:30 – 6:00 pm Monday through Thursday. This gives students the advantage of a predictable school schedule for the entire three years that they are earning their degree and allows them to work part time jobs. “The vast majority of our students work part-time and pay their own tuition,” says Blum. Employers love it because they have a reliable worker with a consistent school schedule. Additionally, students are able to see the concepts they are learning in the classroom played out in their workplace. The theoretical learning taking place in class becomes incredibly practical.
“The vast majority of our students work part-time and pay their own tuition.”
Blum says that most of Oak Valley’s students are first generation college students. Many of them come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Oak Valley gives them an opportunity to pursue a degree that they did not think was within their reach. “They were bound for community college if they were going to go to college at all,” says Blum.
Christian Perspective, Worldview, and Values
A Christian worldview is baked into the DNA of the Oak Valley College. While the program is designed to offer a single degree program in business, all of the courses are taught by Christian professors who work hard to incorporate a Christian perspective into every course. Blum says that even when students are taking a marketing course, they are learning how to think like a marketer through the lens of Christian values. They learn economics from a Christian worldview. They explore leadership from a Christian based servant-leadership perspective.
Additionally, the curriculum includes a theology track. Students take survey courses in Old and New Testament. They take a systematic theology course and a spiritual development course. Christianity is baked into every course at the school, but spiritual formation and discipleship is also a deliberate focus of the school’s program. Blum has often said that his real reason for starting the school was to create a platform for discipleship among young adults.
The Future of Oak Valley College
Oak Valley’s classrooms are located in a shared space with Centerpoint Church in Colton. This church partnership is part of the school’s business model. Every church is trying to figure out how to build community for young adults. Partnering with a college is a great way to do that, and Blum sees it as a model that can be replicated in other regions of Southern California. “We could franchise this,” says Blum. Oak Valley’s leaders are already beginning to have conversations with church and community leaders in the Palm Springs area, and are seeking interested leaders in Orange County. Blum says that the model has been validated over the last three years, and it is time to start thinking bigger.
“We could franchise this.”
Accreditation is often one of the first questions that people ask when they hear about a new college with a radical way of operating. Oak Valley has been preparing for accreditation since it opened its doors in 2016. Blum says that this fall, a team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) will make a three day site visit to the school. WASC is the gold standard for school accreditation in California. Oak Valley is following the same accreditation process as established schools like UCLA, Stanford, and other liberal arts colleges in the state.
Hannah: A Student Story
Blum loves to tell the stories of Oak Valley College students. One of his favorites is the story of Hannah. Hannah was a traditional student who started out at a well-known regional Christian university in the Inland Empire. After her first semester, Hannah started to see the student loan debt piling up around her, and she said, “I can’t do this.” When she heard about Oak Valley College – a college that offered a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, debt-free, and in a Christian environment – she knew that this was the place for her.
Hannah was the first student ever to enroll at Oak Valley College. Three years later, she was part of the first graduating class. “And now she works for a steel company in Riverside and is doing great,” says Blum.
Hannah represents Oak Valley College’s success at honoring God by being doers of the word. Starting a new Christian college in Southern California was a crazy idea to begin with. But God honors crazy ideas when they are carried out for his glory.
Oak Valley College is always eager to have a conversation with people who want a seat at the table of reshaping Christian higher education. Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org or (909) 554-3814 if you would like to learn more about how you can get involved in transforming young adult lives by helping them earn their college degree.