Christian College Versus… COST?!

When I started doing College Transition Seminars in 2005, there was one question that was on a lot of Christian parents’ minds: Do you think we should send our son or daughter to a Christian or secular school? I still get this question from time to time but I don’t hear it as much. Today, the most pressing concern on most people’s minds is the cost and value of higher education. For many years, the value of higher education was understood as self-evident. Students were told that they needed to go to college to be “successful” and debt was justified on the basis that employment opportunities would be abundant.

The economic times have changed. Today many would-be college students are second guessing the culturally assumed next step after high school. And for good reason. Outstanding college student loans are expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Time Magazine listed “Questioning the Value of Higher Education” as one of the top-ten trends of 2011. What’s more, a plethora of books have recently been published that strongly critique higher education, with titles such as: The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For; Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. (The New York Review of Books highlights these titles and more in a very helpful article: “Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?”)

The March 2012 issue of Christianity Today put the spotlight on higher education, particularly Christian colleges and universities. The featured articles recognized the financial burden that higher education has become, but also made a strong case for the value of attending a Christian institution of higher learning. To their credit, the authors do recognize that a Christian college isn’t “for everyone.” The articles are worth reading, especially if you are trying to make an informed decision about life after high school. I found the following interview very informative: “Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education.” Two college presidents (Wheaton and Gordon) discuss the relevance of Christian higher education, the theological issues facing Christian universities, and more. Here’s a good exchange:

CT: Imagine a scenario with me: A student’s parent says, “I’m sending my child to your college to stay out of trouble, find a spouse, graduate, get a great job somewhere, settle down, and start a family.” Isn’t that the American dream?

Lindsay: Those are important components of a whole life, surely. If that’s all you’re looking for in a college experience, then I don’t think it’s worth the investment. What we want is to enliven the minds of young people who have a chance to change the world. I did research on senior leaders. Over half of them had a liberal arts degree. Over half the leaders I interviewed cited the vital importance of a mentor during college.

Ryken: Our parents’ deepest desire is for their sons and daughters to become the men and women God is calling them to become. If you look at what enables young people to sustain a consistent faith in Christ into adulthood, two of the factors are living in a like-minded community that really encourages them to follow this Savior, and having mentors who show them how to live the kind of life they’re called to live.

Read the rest of the interview here. I think both presidents do a good job of keeping the “big picture” in view and offer helpful guidance to those hoping to make a wise college decision.