With an eye toward the fact that private, Christian institutions on average cost more than public universities, you might ask, “Why is Christ-centered higher education worth the investment?”
Let me start by saying that I have an appreciation for many “niche schools” . . . those institutions that don’t try to be all things to all people: Schools like Berea College, The Evergreen State College, Oregon Institute of Technology (one of my former places of employ), and Heritage College. They’re not the right place for all students—not even the right choice for most students—each nonetheless meets the needs of a certain group better than other campuses might. And they’re just much more interesting than more “generic” institutions. Christian colleges, obviously, fill one important niche in American higher education.
To me, being identified as a genuine Christian college is built on three points:
- A commitment to hiring professing believers as faculty and administrators
- A commitment to recognizing the Bible as the Word of God
- A commitment to the integration of faith, learning and living. This should be tied to a clear worldview orientation that guides students to “think Christianly.”
These three points create a fairly large “tent” for this sector of high education but they are sufficient to draw boundaries that exclude those schools that are Christian only in name, are simply church-related, or just bear some historical connection to the Christian faith. They can give you some basis for limiting your college search while still leaving a great deal of flexibility to seek the right fit for your interests and needs.
Is Christ-centered higher education worth the investment? The answer is—for Christian students at least, and perhaps for others—“yes.” Let me outline a few reasons.
A report from the Higher Education Research Institute (2005) noted that today’s students have very high levels of spiritual interest and involvement. Unfortunately, “religion has continuously become marginalized, even trivialized, in the culture of the academic mainstream,” according to David Claerbaut (2004, p.29). Several studies have shown consistent evidence of declines in students’ religious affiliation and orientation during college. However, statistically, attending a Christian college or university is likely to have a positive impact on your faith commitment (Henderson, 2003; Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005).
Christian colleges, as a general rule, are deliberate in seeking to help students develop strong character traits such as integrity, reliability, honesty, responsibility, and honor. This is accomplished through programs in the residence halls, service projects, regular chapel services, intramural sports and more. If there is one word that distinguishes most Christian colleges in this regard, it is “intentional.” They are very conscious of the developmental stages you’re going through and seek to thoughtfully help you work through the decisions you face.
Very importantly, the fact that faculty and administrators have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means that while there may be differences of opinion within Christian higher education as a whole—and within any given college—on countless subjects, this faith commitment provides a common ground. This gives you greater confidence that the counsel and leadership you’ll receive will be in line with biblical principles and based on a Christian worldview. College students often question their faith. At a Christian college, you generally will find yourself in a setting where you can ask honest questions, argue and search without having your faith disrespected or torn down.
Finally, a good Christian college—and I use the word “good” to indicate qualities such as credentialed faculty, appropriate accreditation, adequate facilities, broad curricula, strong student support services and a solid theological basis—provides a more complete education than other colleges can. You certainly can find secular institutions with reputable faculty, small class sizes, high placement rates, etc. (And you can find Christian organizations to affiliate with on most secular campuses.) Any good college provides these same features and benefits but only a good Christian college does so in a way that pays attention to the “whole person” from a strong biblical foundation. In this respect, other types of education are incomplete.
When you look at education as an investment, a degree from any credible college—Christian or otherwise—can provide a pay-off in terms of financial returns. However, attending a high-quality faith-based college or university is likely to provide intangible benefits that truly are priceless. You can look at this issue from a negative perspective (to be protected from negative aspects of a secular education) or a positive viewpoint (to receive constructive advice, well-grounded teaching, etc.) . . . either way, a Christian college education provides a value that you simply can’t find elsewhere.
Are Christian colleges a good choice for all? No. They’re not even the right choice for all Christian students, but they are a worthwhile consideration and sensible investment for you if you would like to be able to tie your Christian faith together with your academic pursuits.
Claerbaut, D. (2004). Faith and Learning on the Edge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Henderson, S. (2003). The Impact of Student Religion and College Affiliation on Student Religiosity. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arkansas.
Keller, G. (1988). “The Four Distinguishing Features of a Christian College Education.” Faculty Dialogue (Winter/Spring), pp. 113-120.
Pascarella, E. and Terenzini, P. (2005). How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.