Christians in College and Christian Colleges

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Believe it or not families are beginning to search out colleges for their upcoming high school seniors.  Summer vacations are conveniently being taken near possible universities, and the internet is buzzing with searches for the right place, the right feel, the best for each student’s intended major. (I say “intended” because the majority of students will change their majors, some several times, making the search difficult to say the least.)

There are other questions on parent’s minds. I know because they ask me.  So let me respond.  One of the concerns is finding a place where the student will be able to mature in a healthy way, not just professionally, but emotionally and spiritually, where they are nurtured into healthy adulthood. Parent’s sometimes say they look for a school where the student can claim their own values, and they hope (and expect) that the university will help them develop values that represent what the parents have encouraged in them.

This is a difficult task for any university, and I applaud parents for asking the question and seeking the school that will assist in their student’s development.  The task is compounded by the general attitudes and needs that students bring with them.  The current generation is, according to Chap Clark, one of the experts on youth culture and Christian ministry (see http://www.parenteen.com/index.cfm/pageID/978/), characterized by “abandonment.”  They seek connection, with peers and adults, feel lost and alone, and struggle to find their way.  In Hurt: inside the world of today’s teenagers (2004) he relates this to us, the adults and the shifts we have lived through over the last several decades.  “…[A]s society in general moved from being a relatively stable place and cohesive adult community intent on caring for the needs of the young to a free-for-all of independent and fragmented adults seeking their own survival, individual adolescents found themselves in a deepening hole of systemic rejection. This rejection, or abandonment, of adolescents is the root of the fragmentation and calloused distancing that are the hallmarks of adolescent culture” (p. 33).

Christian schools attempt to respond to the parents’ questions and to the needs of their students in a variety of ways—student development programs, faculty mentors, worship, connections with the community in a variety of ways, and teaching and encouragement in the Christian faith and life integrated with academic subjects. But the family and student has to discern where to find the university that they feel will be an oasis in that fragmented and lonely world they face and will provide the academic program that will prepare them for the future.

Let me offer a couple of resources that I find helpful. Neither is particularly new, but both are as good as any I have seen in helping to orient our thinking about university life.

First, one about searching for the right college—Thomas Shaw, College Bound, what Christian parents need to know about helping their kids choose a college (2000), with additional information and assistance at http://www.collegedecision.org/   Shaw provides all kinds of useful information from descriptions of the various kinds of universities, to financial aid, to what questions to ask, and what to look for on a visit. He has many years of experience on college campuses and gives some clues that will help you read the campus you visit.

Second, one on what to do when there—J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College (2004).  B. (let’s just leave it at that) has written academic works and popular essays and books. You can find his blog posts for college students at http://www.boundless.org/officehours/   He begins where Shaw leaves off, with chapters on how to understand the variety of perspectives (“worldviews” and “myths”) one will find on campus and how to negotiate life on campus and in the classroom.  For the student he offers insights into how to think about the possibilities of living on campus, how to raise questions of a professor, how to keep your balance, and how to find a Christian group for worship and fellowship. He is full of good advice and some stories of his own experiences.

Parents tell me that they entrust their students to us when they bring them to campus. It is a trust we do not take lightly.  These two resources will help the family discern where to give that trust.

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