Should you add a Christian University to your list of college options?
A successful college experience is based on how the student is engaged, challenged, and supported
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Sitting around the kitchen table amid the stack of college acceptance letters, Lydia Yang and her parents were at a decision point. They had made sacrifices in order to get here and the final, difficult decision was pressing upon them.
How do they make their final choice? Which distinctive attribute was going to tip the decision – size, cost, safety, ranking, distance from home, program of study, or maybe even just the “feeling” of the place?
There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, and each one is as different and diverse as our country. There are two-year, four-year, public, private, research, liberal arts and professional institutions all serving unique purposes.
But there is an important category that Yang’s family may not be as familiar with – the Christian university.
What is different about a Christian university and why might one of these institutions become the top choice for Yang?
Studies suggest that a successful college experience is based on how the student is engaged, challenged, and supported. Small classroom sizes, engaged, purposeful learning, and caring, available professors facilitate this.
While this can describe the junior and senior level courses at larger institutions, smaller private institutions maintain this kind of learning environment from freshman year through senior year.
Most Christian universities are relatively small, less than a few thousand students, and retain small classroom sizes at all course levels. For example, at my institution, John Brown University (JBU), there are less than 3,000 students with an average 15:1 student to faculty ratio. Most classes have fewer than 30 students and rarely more than 50.
In addition, most Christian universities are teaching-oriented institutions where faculty and staff work with students in collaborative research, have one-on-one relationships with students and provide leadership development. As a result, students are known by name and work in a challenging and safe educational environment.
College age students are still in the critical years of development where they will be formalizing and adopting their life purpose and calling. During these years, students will ask and answer some of the most important questions, make lifelong friends and establish life patterns.
Research also suggests that students begin the process of “owning” their beliefs during the college years making their collegiate environment a significant force in shaping who the students will become.
What differentiates Christian colleges from other small, private universities or honors/cohort programs at larger institutions is that a Christian college seeks to the integrate faith, learning and service — educating the whole student.
Take, for example, a standard course like Introduction to Psychology. Both the secular and Christian colleges will cover human development theories, along with a research-based outline of human behavior. But at the Christian university the professor will also discuss how these concepts interface with a Christian worldview. While students are not required to adopt such a perspective, this integrative, Christian worldview perspective permeates all courses of study, including but not limited to education, science, engineering, music or business. Business courses in particular would include an understanding of moral and ethical decision-making from a faith-based perspective.
In order to facilitate this purposeful integration, Christian institutions have guidelines for hiring faculty and staff who are professing Christians. This does not mean that faculty and staff are all seminary trained, but that they are scholars who not only know their material, but work to demonstrate how their faith interacts with their discipline.
It is important to realize that considering a Christian college education does not mean you are sacrificing other priorities like national rankings, safety, job placement rates and graduate school preparation. Many Christian institutions, including JBU, are consistently ranked high by organizations like U.S. News and World Report.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to gain the positive attributes of a Christian university.
There are thousands of options for great university experiences in the United States, and it is important to including Christian higher education in your college search process. It may not be for everyone, but it clearly is a great choice for many. You may be surprised by what you find.
Steve Beers (Ed.D) serves as the Vice President for student development, athletics and facilities at John Brown University. He has worked for in Christian higher education for 30 years and has served nationally as the President for the Association of Christians in Student Development and currently serves as the Chair of the Senior Student Development Commission for the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities. Beers has authored books and presented nationally and internationally on the subject of Christian higher education.