Peter Baldwin had a lightbulb moment and started seeing Hope Forward in a whole new light.

The president and owner of AMDG Architects, while munching on his box lunch, was listening to the Rev. Trygve Johnson make the Christian case for Hope Forward at a lunch-and-learn session at Hope’s recent Catalyst Summit.

The Catalyst Summit on campus, March 2023.

Johnson, the Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel and Hope College’s campus ministries leader, was explaining that the Hope Forward funding model is rooted in God’s grace. Hope Forward is a revolutionary plan where students fund their education through gifts after graduation rather than paying for college through tuition and debt up front.

To demonstrate his point, Johnson referred to the Bible’s parable of the landowner who hired people throughout the day to work his land. At the end of the day, he paid each worker the same wage, whether they worked long or short hours. The workers who worked longer grumbled because they didn’t think the wage was fair.

“That’s the rub with God’s generosity,” Johnson said. “A generous gift isn’t fair. A generous gift is shocking. It can be overwhelming, even upsetting. Because a gift is not about merit. We don’t earn a gift. By definition a gift is something we can only receive. The sustaining energy of the Christian faith is not what we do for God, but what God has done for us.”

Generosity is what Hope Forward is all about.
Hope Forward’s plan to cover the cost of tuition for every student means the college is taking a transactional exchange where students pay tuition in return for an education and turning it into something life transforming, Johnson explained.

“Moving from contract to covenant is a rich idea,” said Baldwin, whose architectural firm has done many projects on campus including two phases of Cook Village, van Andel Huys der Hope Campus Ministries center, the Future of Work renovation of the lower level of DeWitt for the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career, and the Jim Heeringa Athletic Center. “What I find inspiring is Hope College’s why. Hope College is in the business of shaping souls, not just another liberal arts college creating a financial model that works so they don’t close their doors.”

Peter Baldwin (right) on campus for a scholarship luncheon.

When students’ tuition is covered by generous donors, it changes everything, Johnson explained. Students are free to choose a career that will make a difference in the world instead of choosing a job only to repay debt. This creates a circle of giving, where those who have received the gift of tuition want to give back so others have the same opportunity. It’s what Jesus said in Matthew 10:8 — “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Viewing Hope Forward through this lens changed everything for Baldwin.

“I began to see that Hope Forward was not just a strategy to rethink access to higher education and a mechanism to generate a financially sustainable model,” said Baldwin.

“Hope Forward is a powerful expression of Hope’s fundamental purpose — a way to operationalize our mission of living into a culture of generosity and giving that goes with God’s salvation plan.”

While Baldwin fully endorses Hope Forward’s goal to provide access to a transformational Christian liberal arts education for all students, regardless of their ability to pay, he is realistic about the challenges ahead. It will require tremendous effort to do the fundraising on the front end to make it work.

But Johnson said Hope Forward literally means Hope College is “putting our money where our mouth is about our Christian mission.”

“The Christian mission is why we’re doing this, not just for our sustainability, not just for affordability, but because we are a people who have received the gift of God and we want to live in such a way that we’re passing that forward to the next generation,” Johnson said. “And for a suspicious generation right now, that’s the story that they need to hear about God.”

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