Christianity, Education, Politics

Student Politics at Church-Related Colleges and Universities

Newsweek/Daily Beast College Rankings LogoOn Wednesday I noted that the new Newsweek/Daily Beast college rankings included a dozen members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities on their list of the Top 25 Most [Politically] Conservative schools (referring to the student bodies and not to faculty, staff, administrators, curriculum, assigned readings, guest speakers, etc., though all that might indirectly affect how students perceive the liberal/conservative bent). If Liberty University is included, more than half of that list consisted of evangelical Christian colleges and universities.

In my post, I dug a bit deeper, using the student review-driven College Prowler service, and found that, even past those schools listed by Newsweek, CCCU students indeed tended to come off as considerably more conservative than their peers at other institutions. For example, 22 of the top 50 most conservative schools belonged to the CCCU, and 35 of the top 100. (Again, this pertains to political conservatism, not theological conservatism.) Only four were located to the liberal side of the median.

As I wrote Wednesday, there’s really no reason for this: Christians can and should come from all political persuasions, and a liberal arts education does best in a community marked by a wide variety of perspectives.

But it occurred to me not long after pressing the Publish button that it’s unfair to focus so much on one set of religious colleges and universities. Perhaps there are other clusters of Christian or church-related institutions of higher learning whose campuses better reflect my multipartisan ideal. Or, might it be that some non-evangelical Christian college groups present the reverse problem: having student bodies dominated by liberals and progressives?

So back to College Prowler we went. (And let me be clearer than I was earlier in the week: the methodology is imperfect, to say the least. For one thing, numbers of respondents vary greatly, and I have no idea how College Prowler samples student populations. Most importantly, student perception of “campus attitudes” might not match reality. But with that proviso, and in the spirit of sparking conversation, let’s continue!)

This time I tried to identify the largest networks of colleges and universities linked (sometimes quite loosely) to Protestant denominations or Catholic orders. They are (in order of the group’s size): United Methodist Church, 92 schools; Presbyterian Church (USA), 61 (technically, members of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, which is independent but has a covenant with the PCUSA); Southern Baptist, 54 (the affiliation here is very loose: Baptist schools listed by the Southern Baptist Convention but not formally sponsored or otherwise supported by the SBC); Jesuit, 28; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 26; Franciscan, 22 (the members of the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, plus a couple of independent Franciscan schools).

Now, those groups arrayed from most conservative to least, with their median rank using the College Prowler “most conservative” category and their most and least conservative members:

Median Rank

Most Conservative School

Least Conservative School

Southern Baptist

#133

Liberty University, #4

Mars Hill College, #742

Jesuit

#400

St. Joseph’s University, #74

University of San Francisco, #1110

Franciscan

#478

Franciscan University of Steubenville, #9

Alverno College, #877

PCUSA

#567

Grove City College, #8

Macalester College, #1151

UMC

#668

Southern Methodist Univ., #16

American University, #1158

ELCA

#704

Roanoke College, #156

Gustavus Adolphus College, #1099

While it’s not surprising that the mainline groups here were generally less conservative than the evangelical CCCU (median rank: #122), it’s worth noting that the Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran schools are, as networks, closer to the political center than their evangelical counterparts.

Another way of thinking about which church-related network has the greatest balance of political orientations is to divide the 1168 schools rated conservative/liberal by College Prowler into fifths: the 233 most conservative in one category, with the next 233 or so in a “center-right” category, and so forth… This time we’ll go from least to most conservative:

Number in Most Conservative 20%

Number in Center-Right 20%

Number in Center 20%

Number in Center-Left 20%

Number in Most Liberal 20%

Number Not Rated

ELCA

2

4

4

9

2

5

UMC

5

15

11

12

16

33

PCUSA

7

7

11

5

8

23

Franciscan

3

3

5

1

1

9

Jesuit

8

8

6

2

3

1

Southern Baptist

19

10

0

1

0

24

(Note: Why are so many schools unranked? Many of the members of these groups are very small colleges to start with, and not that many of their students have submitted reviews or completed surveys for College Prowler.)

I’m more curious to hear readers’ comments: Are any of these rankings surprising? For example, that these Lutheran schools were the most liberal? That Jesuit schools leaned conservative? That the Presbyterian group was the most centrist and most evenly divided — i.e., the closest to my stated ideal?

Old Main at Gustavus Adolphus College

Old Main at the 1099th most conservative college in the US (according to College Prowler.com): Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN – Creative Commons (Jlencion)

One more comparison: the evangelical members of the CCCU vs. the more ecumenical membership of the Lilly National Network, which includes a wide array of Catholic institutions (including diocesan schools that don’t show up above) and more mainline Protestant schools in addition to about twenty CCCU schools.

Number in Most Conservative 20%

Number in Center-Right 20%

Number in Center 20%

Number in Center-Left 20%

Number in Most Liberal 20%

Number Not Rated

CCCU

63

12

6

2

0

31

Lilly Network

40

22

11

11

3

10

Lilly Fellows Program logoThe Lilly median (#264) was to the left of the CCCU (#122), but not as much as I’d expected. After all, only about a fifth of the Lilly Network overlaps with the CCCU, and Lilly members include a number of ELCA schools (including the two most liberal: St. Olaf and Gustavus) and non-evangelical Methodist and Presbyterian colleges and universities. But of the seven Lilly schools among College Prowler’s twenty-five most conservative, three were non-CCCU: Baylor (#7), Pepperdine (#17), and Notre Dame (#22).

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Student Politics at Church-Related Colleges and Universities

  1. I’m still irked that college prowler has no research on Milligan or Emmanuel. We’re here too, people! :)

    Posted by Nathan Gilmour | August 17, 2012, 7:50 AM
    • It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, Nathan. Some Bethel rankings: course variety (804/1170), library (717/1161), network reliability (951/1194), Internet speed (806/1196), and most open-minded (1149/1172). Of course, we also have no fraternities or sororities, yet rank in the top third for Best Greek Housing, so…

      Posted by Chris Gehrz | August 17, 2012, 8:40 AM
  2. I go to Grove City College (ranked #8 in the list you cited) and we are definitely very conservative. We had a Young Democrats club… but then he graduated.

    Posted by D.Post | September 11, 2012, 7:58 PM

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