Saturday, March 11, 2023

A few thoughts on a Christian university. . .

For a long time the idea of a Christian university has morphed into a curriculum not much different from their secular counterparts and with some additions to those regular offerings, including a chapel on campus.  That is pretty much the path taken by the Concordias of our own university system.  They are much like their secular counterparts except that they offer church work preparation, a smattering of religious classes open to or perhaps one or two required of all students.  Now we are finding that the old model may not be enough for these Christian universities to stand out from the crowd. 

On the other hand, those universities that have followed the more classical model of education have fared better, finding a place to flourish when the overall student population of colleges and universities has declined significantly (12-15%!).  Take a gander at such schools as Thomas Aquinas College (Massachusetts), Benedictine College (Kansas), University of Dallas, Florida’s Ave Maria University, and, of course, Michigan’s Hillsdale College.  They are making headway in a crowded field by being distinctive, even significantly different than the rest of the pack.  Hillsdale's applications were up 53%.  

All I am saying is that when a church school, from preschool to university, offers a relatively secular program with religious additions, we find it hard to compete and to justify the higher cost.  But when we offer something that is distinctive from the beginning, especially a curriculum in which faith permeates everything, we have something to offer the world and something to justify the higher overall cost of education.

As has been said before, the numbers of bodies available continues to decline even as the competition ramps up for the 18 year old headed to university.  We have already done a fine job of saturating the market with our online masters so we cannot depend upon that program to continue to prop up our schools.  There must be something to justify the small, faith based school and its higher cost.  So, if we are to compete, we must offer something that is not being offered other places -- not in the state schools, the public universities, and the also rans of church schools now acting rather independently.  I would suggest that by becoming more we will also find more students and that more looks more and more like a classical curriculum for every school from preschool to university.  Our days of chasing educational fads and accommodating the political trends of the day and expecting folks to come are pretty much over.  Either we will live or die by being more true to our theological and confessional selves or we will have little reason to survive even if we do succeed.

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