Christian Colleges in the News

Every once in a while, leading higher ed publications like The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed report on my particular sector, and I add those articles to my Saturday links wraps. But this week has seen an unusually large number of stories about Christian colleges in the mainstream media, so I thought I’d do a midweek collection of links:

• Most prominently, Chronicle reporter Terry Nguyen had a long piece yesterday surveying how some members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) are responding to the overall decline in undergraduate enrollment and religious identification among young people, a “double whammy [that] could spell financial trouble for small Christian institutions” and has prompted them “to look for ways to set themselves apart from one another while staying true to their religious missions.” The key figure in Nguyen’s piece was David Wright, president of Indiana Wesleyan University, whose online enrollment is four times that of the 3,000 residents on its main campus. “Our sector doesn’t like to use the word ‘business’ very much, but I find this language useful,” he tells Nguyen. “My challenge to our organization is that we are defined by our identity and mission as a Christ-centered academic community… But then you have to go further and you have to ask yourself, How do I ensure that the people who might be interested in that see a value they’re willing to pay for?”

• As I noted over the weekend, CCCU presidents like Wright gathered in Washington last week for their annual conference. In addition to politicians like House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, conference guests included the leaders of other kinds of faith-based colleges and universities. The presidents of Yeshiva University (Jewish), Zaytuna College (Muslim), Brigham Young University (Mormon), and Regis University (Roman Catholic) joined Shirley Mullen of Houghton College (a CCCU member) for an interfaith panel. As Religion News Service (RNS) reporter Adelle Banks noted, those presidents found common ground in making connections between faith and learning. “It doesn’t mean the differences are not really important,” Regis president John Fitzgibbons told Banks later. “They are. They need to be reverenced by everybody. But we’re all looking for true meaning. We’re all in that search.” (Earlier in the conference, Georgetown University president John DeGioia joined Seattle Pacific professor Brenda Salter McNeil for a conversation about reconciliation.)

Dimnent Chapel, Hope College
Dimnent Memorial Chapel at Hope College, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America – Creative Commons (Trenner1945)

• Another non-CCCU Christian college was the subject of a report this morning by Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed: she asked why the Music Department at Hope College has seen seventeen instructors reassigned or depart in a year, and why students in that department want Hope’s provost to resign. Flaherty quoted from an open letter by Hope’s recently retired director of choral activities, who hinted at “philosophical divisions” between those who did and didn’t want to “[move] past the traditional European model to include multicultural experiences preparing students for 21st-century careers.”

• RNS reporter John Longhurst checked in with one of the CCCU’s Canadian members, Trinity Western University, which last year decided to make voluntary student affirmation of a lifestyle covenant calling on community members to “abstain [from] sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” The school’s marketing director insisted that the decision — which followed a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that found the covenant discriminatory — has not had a negative impact on enrollment or fundraising. University president Bob Kuhn declined to be interviewed by Longhurst, but told an evangelical magazine that some LGBTQ students have told him that TWU is “a warmer and more welcoming place to come out” than public universities.

• Finally, I’ve written occasionally about football on Christian college campuses — and am thinking through a new sports history course — so I was struck to see Malone University announce that it is dropping its football program. (Unlike most CCCU members, Malone competes in Division II of the NCAA, which awards athletic scholarships.) Malone president David King called it “by far the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make” in his quarter-century in higher ed. While I’m on the faculty of a Christian university that increasingly emphasizes its nationally-ranked football program as a driver of enrollment and a model of whole-person development, Malone’s press release explained that cutting football will save the university a million dollars a year, 40% of a looming budget deficit.