Students Vary on Motivations for Choosing Religious Education

As high school students search for their future college, many of them come across a label that reads “private Christian college.” Most students scroll past schools like these and turn to bigger state schools.

A report done by Geneva College highlights a few myths about faith-based schools such as the myth that students don’t have fun at Christian universities and that theology is no longer relevant. However, many students enrolled in Christian colleges will argue that is not the case.

In Arkansas, there are 11 faith-based colleges. Two of those are John Brown University in Siloam Springs and Harding University in Searcy. Both of these institutions believe that faith and education go hand in hand, and they want students to develop skills outside of their vocation.

According to a recent study by Cardus, a Christian think tank based in Canada, the motivations behind choosing a religious or public education vary widely. For those selecting a public institution, over one-third of graduates from private nonreligious institutions listed “academic reputation” as their top reason for selecting their school. For those selecting private religious schools, 55% of graduates stated that “the religious mission of the school” led them to choose their university. Graduates of public institutions listed “lower cost or greater financial aid” as the primary reason for their choice.

New York Times columnist and author David Brooks spoke at the 40th Anniversary Celebration Gala for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Brooks said, “Most universities have gotten out of the business of spiritual and character development, and they’ve adopted a research ideal.” He argues that higher education has lost its view on why learning matters, and the culture of Christian higher education has lost its focus on a person as a whole.

At Harding University, the students are advised to keep their spiritual life central. Kyle Bowman, junior psychology major at Harding, said, “I grew up in public schools all my life and I desired to grow with people that were likeminded … I thought it would also be a component of spiritual growth.”

When asked what his favorite thing about Harding was Bowman said, “The common culture … people care about each other and it reminds me of the good that is present in this world. I also love that I’m still able to have my own freedom and grow as an independent person.”

John Brown University was recently named the #1 College in Arkansas by the Wall Street Journal. Kathy Carranza, freshman international business major said, “JBU wasn’t my first choice … However, God has always been a part of my life and one of my close friends introduced me to JBU … I felt like I was being called to attend here.”

Taylor Compton, a junior engineering major, is a Christian student at the University of Arkansas. When asked why he chose to attend the U of A over a Christian college, he said, “I went to a boarding school the last two years of high school, and I wanted to get away from all the rules we had to follow. Christian colleges were too expensive for my family to cover, and the U of A offered me enough money to go.”

When asked what his favorite thing about the U of A was, Compton said, “Although the school is not Christian, I’ve been able to find a small community on campus to worship with and we have social events. Seeking God is still possible.”

Students also shared what they disliked the most about their school. Bowman said, “The one thing I don’t like about [Harding] is the neediness of being in a social club. It builds a false sense of community, and if you’re not part of a social club, then you’re seen as an outcast.”

Compton expressed concern about the atmosphere of U of A’s campus. “I don’t like how many temptations there are on campus,” Compton sad. “I don’t like how close in proximity the school is to night clubs and bars, and I worry about my friends slipping into drinking and partying … Sometimes I wish there was a little more structure to student life and culture.”

As a commuter, Carranza has seen the shifting culture of the JBU attitude toward commuters. “I love JBU, but as a commuter, I sometimes feel a lack of being part of the community on campus,” Carranza said. “Thankfully, the school has taken several steps to make commuters feel more at home. I know JBU will continue improving and I hope to be a part of that change.”

Photo: Catherine Nolte, The Threefold Advocate