By David B. Fincher
(This article is a follow-up to David Fincher’s column from August, “10 Reasons to Send a Student to Christian College for a Year.”)
Every year, Christian colleges welcome new students who decide to attend, and many of them wonder why more young Christians don’t join them. This article describes common reasons students give for not attending college (reasons 1 to 5) and reasons students give for not attending a Christian college (reasons 6 to 10). Each reason is followed by a thoughtful response that can be used to start a discussion with potential students.
1. “I don’t need a college degree to get a job today.” Minimum wage increases, low unemployment rates, and entry-level job options allow young adults to make money without a degree. College dropouts who have become billionaires give the impression a successful career is possible without higher education. Although success is attainable for many in the short term, it is less assured throughout the rest of adulthood without a college degree. Hourly jobs in the service industry do not create a career. During economic downturns, people without a college degree are more likely to become unemployed. Longitudinal studies show that lifetime earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree are about 50 percent higher than those who hold only a high school diploma. Even the best-paid ministry jobs go to those with at least a bachelor’s and usually a master’s degree. I like to tell young people, “You can pay for Christian college by working customer service jobs while pursuing a meaningful career.”
2. “What I study today will be irrelevant in a few years anyway.” Even college programs that are updated frequently rarely are able to predict future trends. (Otherwise, professors would become stock market investors!) That doesn’t mean those college programs are wasted. I earned a bachelor’s degree before I had email, I earned a master’s degree before I watched streaming movies, and I earned a doctorate before I could establish a social media profile. Because the world of the future is built on the reality of the past, things learned in the present are relevant for at least one more generation. And since Christian colleges include the study of God’s unchanging Word, much of the material is eternally true. “A Christian college degree gives you unchanging truth for an unknowable future.”
3. “I want to live at home for a few more years.” When families were larger and houses were smaller, teenagers couldn’t wait to leave for college. Parents (and siblings) were happy to have one less person sharing the bathroom! Smaller families and larger houses make it harder to leave. Extended adolescence and delayed adulthood are real, but becoming an independent adult is inevitable. Leaving for college is a helpful next step on that journey. And the home-like environment of a small Christian college, with many substitute parents, can facilitate the transition. “Your room will still be there to visit, and your parents will notice the difference in you from being at Christian college.”
4. “I don’t have enough money saved.” Only 25 percent of 18-year-olds have a 529 college savings plan established on their behalf. Many families have limited finances due to inflationary forces, income stagnation, and unfortunate situations. Only 40 percent of families have $1,000 in emergency funds available. Fortunately, most colleges offer generous financial aid. Many of them participate in federal and state programs that reduce or eliminate the cost of earning a degree. Because of their small size and lower prices, Christian colleges can help students pay for their education. Many churches also provide scholarships to Christian colleges. “Let’s talk to a financial aid officer and your church to see what it costs to attend a Christian college.”
5. “I don’t want to go into debt.” The student loan situation in America is complicated and controversial. Excessive student loans taken at for-profit colleges and in professional programs (such as medical, legal, engineering, etc.) has increased the average loan amount to $32,731, while the median loan amount is only $17,000. Studies show that a modest loan makes a student more likely to complete a degree, more satisfied with the education received, and more motivated to take a good job after graduation. Borrowing $5,000 per year to complete college brings much more long-term value than borrowing $20,000 to buy a vehicle. “You can learn to use credit responsibly by investing in yourself now and trusting the Lord to provide for your future needs.”
AND NOW, these are FIVE REASONS students commonly give for not attending a Christian college.
6. “I received a different scholarship I don’t want to waste.” Universities often provide generous assistance to the best and brightest students, but sometimes those scholarships don’t even cover the cost of attendance. So, even a seemingly large scholarship to a secular university can leave the cost of that institution more expensive than attending a Christian college. Even when a “full ride” has been offered, a spiritual decision emerges. The most gifted students have much to offer the Lord’s kingdom. Many of today’s Christian leaders turned down state school scholarships to obey God’s calling. Choosing a Christian college clarifies a person’s identity and priorities. “When you follow Christ, what you give up on earth is replaced by God’s eternal rewards.”
7. “I’ve attended church activities all my life.” Many large churches have a full range of classes, training, and service projects for their students. These are wonderful opportunities, but they can create a false sense of security that no further spiritual preparation is necessary. Not even the most involved youth group, however, can provide the same level of biblical instruction as a Christian college. Getting involved in church as an adult is a necessary step to future commitment. Being exposed to similar students from other locations and churches builds maturity and unity within the entire body of Christ. “What you have already gained from your church will be a blessing at Christian college as you learn from each other and work together.”
8. “I want to reach lost people at a university right now.” A heart for those outside of Christ motivates many good intentions. While some Christian students who attend secular colleges and universities do stay strong in their faith and are able to be strong witnesses for Christ, unfortunately, it is more common for them to stop attending church, lose their faith, and undermine their witness due to worldly behavior. While a vibrant campus ministry at many such schools can help prevent that loss of faith and can build discipleship in students, the campus ministry must compete with other university activities and classes. The answers to the world’s biggest questions come to individuals when mature faith develops through the careful study of Scripture. “If you attend a Christian college first, your mind and heart will be prepared for the challenge of representing Christ at a university later.”
9. “I’m not going to be a minister.” Christian colleges have a great tradition of training professional preachers, missionaries, and worship leaders. As a result, a Christian college campus can feel like a foreign field to those who don’t have plans of that sort. Most Christians will not become ministers, which may explain why only 5 percent of Christians consider Christian college as an option after high school. However, a Christian college degree can prepare students for many career options, not just ministry. Employers are looking for competent graduates with character. Many employers recognize that Christian college graduates are likely to have strong personal ethics and a greater sense of responsibility. In addition, no one can predict what God’s call may be for those he has gifted. Many Christian college students discover their unique strengths fit into a ministry opportunity of which they were unaware. The church needs more ministers in various capacities, and most of them come from Christian colleges. “Since your current plan will probably change, shape your future in a place where you can see yourself in God’s perspective.”
10. “Christian college isn’t [blank] enough.” Some want a “large” college even though studies show that similarly prepared students are more likely to drop out at a large institution than at a smaller school. Some want a “prestigious” university, even though the price and baggage of a brand can lead to pride and distractions. Some students seek out a school that is regionally accredited, even though national accreditation is considered equivalent by the U.S. Department of Education. Christian colleges use their limited resources to serve constituents by staying as affordable as possible. Comparing them to highly endowed universities minimizes the importance of a spiritual environment and mission. “God is big enough to give you the experience you need at a Christian college.”
A SERIOUS CONVERSATION
Admittedly, not everyone should attend a Christian college, and some succeed in life without attending college at all. However, every young person should have a serious conversation as they decide how to be faithful to the Lord in their life after high school.
For many years, I have noticed that ministers and elders are less likely to encourage their children to attend a Christian college. While forcing someone to enroll in a Christian school rarely leads to a good result, discussing such an important issue is essential. As we encourage those in our churches to consider Christian college, we need a gracious response if they initially dismiss the idea. Those discussions will help the students produced by our churches to consider Christian college as a valid path to fulfilling their potential as faithful adult Christ followers.
Dr. David Fincher is president of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Mo., and the Christian Church Leadership Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio.