A Word About College

I entered a rather interesting fray on Facebook yesterday after posting some thoughts about Liberty University.  The long and short of it was that I haven’t been very impressed by the school in the past and would rather see students looking for a Christian college go elsewhere.  Responses were varied, with some frustrated that I would make such a statement while others were heartily in agreement.  A few current and former Liberty students also contacted me to defend their school.  Other parts of the discussion focused on the idea of the Christian college itself and/or the merits of–as one person put it–[gasp] the non-Christian college.

While Providence, parents, students, and the pocketbook have a much bigger say in the choice of college than me, I do feel it was appropriate to share  in this area because of my time as a youth pastor and increasingly involvement in the field of Christian higher education.

A few more thoughts after reflecting on the conversation(s):

  • I believe in Christian colleges, or, as we in the “biz” like the call them, “Christian liberal arts institutions.”  When done well, they can provide an excellent space for young Christian believers to move from childhood to adulthood in a challenging yet affirming way.  Though there is the danger of schools being either too theologically protective and safe (i.e. indoctrinating) or too progressive and challenging under the guise of safety (i.e. misleading), many schools do a great job with this.  I feel that my alma mater Houghton College is one of these schools, as is my current employer Northwest University.  Another choice would be Wheaton College outside of Chicago.
  • Though all schools (Christian or not) have some responsibility to guard their students (the old in loco parentis), some schools go too far in doing so.  As one friend noted, adolescence is already too long as it is.  Do we really need colleges treating young adults like junior highers?  While there need to be some bounds of safety within a Christian community (that can be unfortunately lacking at some public institutions), these need to be of the common sense variety.  For instance: there is a big difference between banning drinking on campus and fining students for not cleaning their rooms.  Or requiring every student to take an introductory theology class vs. instilling a mandatory curfew on nights and weekends.  In other words, schools need to ask themselves whether their rules are motivated out of a tradition and fear OR a desire to see students grow up in a real and complex world.
  • Christian colleges come in all shapes and sizes.  To have heard a little bit about one, or even to have gone to one, does not exhaust the variety and richness that is the scope of American Christian undergraduate institutions.  There are lots of different people out there as well.  I can imagine lots of reasons people might choose to go to a lot of different schools.  There are some people that need to be challenged more, and some that may have more growing up to do and need to be encouraged in different ways.  My own preference: to see students that want a Christian undergraduate experience to be at a place that is “safe” yet challenging and will help further their growth as a person, believer, and product member of society who integrate their faith in all they do.  But, at the end of the day, I do concede that college is what you make it: you can have a horrible experience at a great school or a great experience at a horrible school.
  • I’m not foolish enough to think that every college-bound believer needs to attend a Christian college.  They can be very expensive…and at a certain point, I’m not sure how much the “experience” is really worth.  There can be a certain elitism or even selfishness in spending so much money on yourself…if it is just for yourself.  Moreover, I believe that Christians do have a place in the public sphere.  This oughtn’t to always begin AFTER college, either.  As a former student of mine (and graduate of  a non-Christian college) rightly noted, there are a lot of opportunities to grow and serve and be a witness to Christ at these institutions as well.  Groups like Intervarsity or Chi Alpha do a great job working with and encouraging students all over the country, and as a youth pastor I value their presence and continued ministry.
  • I’d also like to add that youth pastors ought  to work with students and parents as they are making these decisions in their junior and senior years of high school.  I didn’t always do a great job at this, but am increasingly convinced it can be a vital part of twelfth grade ministry and beyond: advising students not only what school they will attend but how to prepare for it, what their expectations are, and what dialogue partners they will have about their experiences.  Important stuff.



6 comments on “A Word About College

  1. Matt says:

    Josh, I see no need for you to apologizing or explaining your thoughts/statements. Stand by them. If people don’t agree with you, than so be it. I for one can not see the advantage of a Christian school. (unless they are attending one for ministry…) I feel if a person’s roots are grounded in a good church, and the they get involved in a Christian fuction on campus, they should get all the spirtial food they need.

    • Thanks, Matt. I didn’t think this post was an apology, more of an explanation….and I certainly don’t reject my initial thoughts. Liberty is definitely NOT my top choice. I do feel bad if someone was inadvertently hurt, however.

      I see where you are coming from with the Christian college thing. Especially with the pricetag.

  2. Well said, Josh.

    I agree with this and have been challenged. I could do better at counseling our students and walking with them through their choices.

    I for one did need the Christian college “experience” and it was worth every penny. I didn’t major in ministry, actually ministry was the last place I wanted to be. Funny how God changes things. But, I knew if I went to a secular university I would’ve been partying with the same friends that I was trying to break the ties with.

    So, I guess it really depends on the student and situation. And, that give us in youth ministry a greater responsibilty to disciple our young people and help them to own their faith. This way they can evaluate where they are and what they need to further them in their walk and future.

  3. Thanks, Jenn. Good thoughts here! Thinking of all of you in these weeks leading up to Winter Retreat….

  4. Dave says:

    I agree with you that to many rules for people that age is a bit overbearing. I think you’ve done a great job at pointing out the benefits from every angle of this topic. Sometimes you don’t need to have a bad experience to understand that things need to be changed.

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