Christian vs. Secular College

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Bill exhaled a small sigh of relief as he dropped the yellow legal pad onto the kitchen table. After hours of adding, subtracting, budgeting, and projecting, he had obtained clear-cut numerical evidence that his daughter Kelly would be attending State University in the fall. It was a less expensive option than the Christian college four states away where she was hoping to enroll.

Kelly sat down with Bill and looked at the numbers. The College Board reported in October of 2009 that tuition and fees at private colleges average $26,273, while the cost at public four-year institutions was $7,020. Bill was not made of money and, over the next four years, the numbers were not likely to turn in his favor. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reported that, between 1984 and 2008, college tuition and fees rose 439 percent, while median family income rose only 147 percent.

Kelly would be eligible for a considerable amount of financial aid at the Christian college, but State U. would still be less expensive. She looked at the numbers, sadly nodded agreement, then threw on her coat and walked out the front door to catch a ride to the church’s monthly youth group activity.

As the door closed behind her, Bill looked at his notes again, wondering if he had missed anything.

Sadly, he had.

Lower price tag, higher cost

Yes, secular colleges have a lower price tag. But, what might that decision really cost your family?

The cost of sending a young person to a state university will, in many cases, be a life marked by ambivalence toward spiritual things, regrettable lifestyle choices, or a complete disregard of the principles Christian parents had attempted to pass on to their children.

At least two recent studies have indicated that the educational environment plays a very large part in the future spiritual direction a young adult’s life will take.

The Henderson study

The most visible study of this concept was explored in 2002 by Dr. Steve Henderson, President of Christian Consulting for Colleges and Ministries. Henderson was Vice President for Recruitment Consultation at Noel Levitz Center for Enrollment Management at that time and is the former Director of Admissions for the University of Arkansas.

Henderson’s study of 16,000 students attending 133 different secular colleges showed that 52 percent of those students had left Christianity behind by graduation. Yes, more than half of students who classified themselves as “born-again Christians” upon entering a non-Christian college no longer identified themselves that way, or had not attended church services in the past year, by the time they were seniors.

Another way to view those statistics is that approximately 65,000 high school seniors will strengthen their faith at Christian colleges this fall—but 148,000 will lose theirs at secular colleges.

Male DuoUCLA/HERI study

The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA launched a multiyear study that is exploring spiritual trends among college students and how their experiences affect their spiritual development. The survey was taken by more than 112,000 incoming freshmen in 2004. In the spring of 2007, 15,000 of those freshmen at 136 colleges took a follow-up survey.

The UCLA research showed a significant increase in the percentage of students supporting legalized abortion (52 percent to 60 percent) and legal marital status for gay couples (54 percent to 66 percent) over that span.

The percentage of students who never attend religious services nearly doubled over three years, to 37.5 percent. Only 7 percent said they attended services more frequently than they did in high school. The percentage of those who agreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what I believe as long as I lead a moral life” grew from 51 percent to 58 percent.

Faculty members have an impact

Young adults are influenced by the moral and political leanings of both their professors and their peers. In the case of students enrolled in public colleges, that is not such a good thing.

Students who took the UCLA study said only 20 percent of their professors frequently encouraged “questions of meaning and purpose” and 28 percent never encouraged it. Those students also said 60 percent of their professors never encouraged religious discussions.

Those professors who do encourage such discussions are likely to offer input and guidance that directly opposes what Christian young people have been taught at home.

Professors lean to the left

A Washington Post article on March 29, 2005, cited a survey of 1,643 faculty members at 183 four-year colleges. The report found 72 percent of those professors consider themselves “liberal,” only 15 percent “conservative.” In a 1984 survey by the Carnegie Foundation, only 39 percent of professors identified themselves as liberal.

Nearly two-thirds believe homosexuality is acceptable and 84 percent are strongly or somewhat in favor of abortion rights.

At “elite” schools (highly ranked liberal arts colleges and research universities that grant PhDs), nearly 87 percent of faculty members are liberal. The three researchers for the Randolph Foundation survey in 2005 found that conservatives, women, and more religious professors are less likely to land positions at the “elite” colleges.

Only 5 percent of faculty in English literature, philosophy, political science, and religious studies call themselves conservative.

“That’s why you need diversity, not just of race and gender, but also, maybe especially, of ideas and perspective,” George Mason University faculty member and co-author Robert Lichter told the Post.

OutcastLifestyle choices

Christian parents who have not set foot on a college campus in a while might be surprised at what they find.

State universities have been offering coed dormitories for many years. While some dorms have designated floors for male and female students, others put them on the same floor—boys on one side of the hall, girls on the other—or in the same rooms, if they choose.

While not every student will embrace a sexually active lifestyle, many colleges promote “promiscuity made easy.” In fact, a 2007 report in the Journal of American College Health says students in coed dorms are more likely to binge drink every week, to have more sexual partners, and to view pornography.

Most of the world today sees sexual experimentation and excessive drinking as part of the “normal” college experience, and the students’ behavior certainly lends support to that notion.

More than 100,000 students between ages 18 and 24 reported in a 2002 survey to having been too intoxicated to remember whether or not they had consented to having sex. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, citing a 2008 article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that 83 percent of college students drink and 41 percent admitted to five or more drinks on at least one occasion within the two weeks preceding the survey.

Drugs are also readily available from fellow students on most secular college campuses. A 2007 USA Today article, citing a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said 23 percent of the 2,000 students met the medical definition for drug or alcohol use or dependence. More than 8 percent of students reported having used illegal drugs other than marijuana.

My kid is different

Of course, not every Christian young person who attends a state university will turn their back on their faith. There are Bible studies and outreach programs available, although many have an interfaith emphasis that parents and students may find uncomfortable.

But, please consider for a moment just what your young person will be facing every day:

  • Peers with a view of faith and morality that is ambivalent at best, antagonistic at worst.
  • Professors who decry Christianity as “intolerant” and intellectually bankrupt.
  • Fellow students who will question, and often ridicule, those with conservative lifestyle standards.
  • A dormitory where they will be forced to share a bathroom, floor, or even their room with someone of the opposite sex.
  • A social atmosphere where drinking, drug abuse, and immorality are encouraged and even expected.

While your son or daughter may enjoy a supportive home and a solid church, the constant bombardment of negative influences may eventually prove too much to overcome. That could result in poor decisions that will affect their relationship to God, and your family, for the rest of their lives.

The price tag is certainly a factor when deciding on a college. But, is it the only factor? Haven’t you taught your children that many things, including our walk with Christ, are more important than money?

When the time for a decision comes, be sure to pray for wisdom. The cost for your young adult to attend a public college may be much higher than you could ever have imagined.