Return On Investment….Should Christian Parents Use a Different Measure?

“The years between adolescence and adulthood are a crucible in which moral meaning is being formed, and central to that formation is a vision of integrity which coherently connects belief to behavior, personally as well as publicly…”
The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber.

I find it interesting when parents discuss the “return on investment” in their children. I often feel they are discussing this in the same way they discuss depreciation or interest with their accountants. “What is the return on our twelve-year-old this year?” (Wouldn’t that be nice if it was something other than sass and disdain?) How can we measure our return on the money we are investing in our students’ education?

Could Garber’s rather old-fashioned idea that one can “connect belief to behavior in a coherent way,” be the ultimate ROI for which we are looking?

When asked about ROI, I often respond, “Creating a coherent adult life filled with integrity.” I sometimes am judged as naïve by more “savvy” parents. “Be practical!” they say. And I stand my ground and defend the statement this way:

Integrity is a word with an enlightening group of definitions.

From The Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) Integrity is defined as:

  • “Possession of firm principles. The quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards.
  • Completeness. The state of being complete or undivided.
  • Wholeness. The state of being sound or undamaged.”

Hmm…Isn’t this the ROI any parent desires? Who wants their child to have no principles, or to be incomplete or divided, or unsound or damaged? And yet, many Christian parents, when asked about their return on the investment of college respond in very interesting ways. “I just want him to have a happy life.” Or “I need her to be able to support herself.” The problem is, without integrity and coherence, these other goals are difficult to come by. As Christian parents, the time between adolescence and adulthood is wasted if the only thing our child earns is a college diploma.

So, what should we be looking for in ROI? I agree with Steve Garber in his assessment about those years. The work that is done during these years is life changing. Any student who assesses a college ONLY by its list of majors, what companies visit during a career fair, or Greek life, is leaving out an important piece of the assessment. I would argue that parents and students need to intentionally choose a college on the basis of the following additional criteria in order to increase the ROI.

Does this college seem like a place that can help a student:

  • “Develop a worldview that can make sense of life, facing the challenge of truth and coherence in an increasingly pluralistic world;
  • Pursue a relationship with a teacher whose life incarnates the worldview the [I am] learning to embrace;
  • Commit [myself] to others who have chosen to live their lives embedded in that same worldview, journeying together in truth after the vision of a coherent and meaningful life.”

This is my definition of a realistic and meaningful ROI.  How about you?  Think about your definition of ROI, and how will you measure if you have earned enough?