In 2018 across the United States more than 20 million students enrolled in nearly 4600 colleges or universities.
Like most everything else in the 21st century, education is changing, maybe not as fast as other established norms, but higher education is changing nonetheless. For example, there was a time when a student had to leave home to go to college or at least drive his beater Chevy across town to the local junior college. Not any more, now a student can sit in mom’s kitchen and take online classes leading to a four-year degree. Higher education has changed; some changes are for the good while others are not.
Amidst all the change, I still believe in the idea of Christian higher education.
It is hard to know exactly how many students attend Christian colleges or for that matter, how many Christian colleges actually exist, but we can make some observations. For example, Christian colleges are everywhere. You can attend a Christian college in Hawaii or Maine, and in every state between. If you want to attend a small school, there is California Christian College, a Fresno campus of 43 students. If a large school is your preference, there is Baylor University in Texas where more than 16,000 matriculate each semester. If you want to go away from home, you might consider Alaska Christian College. If you want to stay close to home in Minnesota, you can choose from Augsburg, Bethel, Crown, Gustavus, Northwestern, and many more that self-identify as Christian colleges. Of course, the names in this paragraph show how broad a spectrum “Christian” is when it comes to higher education.
Christian higher education can be very expensive. Because they are private colleges and universities, generally Christian institutions do not receive tax dollars to lower costs. If you want a Christian education, you will have to pay and pray. The cost of room, board, and tuition at my alma mater has risen nearly 400% since I enrolled in the fall of 1983, far outpacing inflation. Skyrocketing costs are the reality across the landscape of higher education.
Despite the changes and the costs, I still believe in Christian higher education. Three of our four children matriculated to a Christian university. The one who did not wanted to go to a Christian college but the opportunities for her were not the same as her siblings. I hope students and their families will consider the option of Christian higher education first. Here are a few reasons.
The Formation of a Worldview
College professors, textbooks, and fellow students shape how young adults understand their world. How a Christian interprets the culture and how a non-Christian interprets the culture is dramatically different. What happens on a college campus goes a long way to establishing how one makes choices, sets directions, and evaluates life. A Christian higher education serves the young student as he develops his worldview.
The Benefits of Christian Community
Not every student at every Christian college is true disciple, just like our churches. However, a genuine Christian college makes much of the Christian community. The college chapel hosts preaching that encourages, challenges, corrects, and informs. Dormitory life can be a place for genuine discipleship as believing women and men share life together, living out the one another statements of the New Testament in close quarters. While online dating sites mitigate the necessity to physically go where other single Christians are, finding a spouse on a Christian college campus may be second only to finding a spouse in your own church.
The Potential for the Local Church
Every study on what happens to high school students in the church when they graduate reports a shockingly high number who leave the church during their college years. The church is losing its college students. Can an education at a Christian college protect against this? There’s no guarantee, but one would hope it would.
God’s plan for the work of the gospel is not the Christian college. God’s plan for the work of the gospel is the local church. As a pastor my hope would be that Christian colleges would serve the local church by providing additional training to the students we send to them, so that when they return to us, they commit themselves to the work of the gospel in the local church according to their giftedness and skills.
I speak from a voice of experience. Brenda and I know the challenge to Christian worldview the educational experience at a non-Christian university presents. It is a big deal that required weekly and sometimes daily conversations with our college student. There can be no exaggeration how dangerous the constant attacks on the Bible and on the Christian lifestyle can be to a young Christian woman or man. The choice to choose a secular higher education must be made understanding the risks.
Our student who did not have the privilege to attend a Christian university expressed over and again over the course of her college career the longing for Christian community. Her siblings told her of their chapel and classroom experiences, and she met their Christian friends. Her non-Christian college could not provide a similar atmosphere.
One final word, not everyone can or should pursue higher education. For those who do, an education at a Christian college may not be the right option. I respect that. Yet, in the changing world of higher education, I still believe in Christian higher education and thank God for the possibilities that education affords.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.