Slightly more than a year ago, I visited Grove City College, a Christian-affiliated institution. Most recently, the college retained 92 percent of the freshmen who entered in 2014 and graduated 76 percent of the freshmen who entered in 2010. This is an excellent performance for any school of any size. The visit also led me to think about how families might want to consider and compare religiously affiliated colleges. While Grove City College does an excellent job at providing a college education so do many other religiously affiliated colleges such as Holy Cross (MA), Siena (NY) and St. Michael’s (VT), among others
There are many schools that are not religiously affiliated colleges that also support campus ministry programs, among other opportunities to practice or honor and serve their faith. However, these schools can only go as far with these programs as their students and contributors are willing to fund them. Religiously affiliated colleges are more likely to place faith at the center of their mission. In this post I would like to highlight four important questions about religiously affiliated colleges.
How is faith part of the academic program?
Depending on the school most religiously affiliated colleges will require between nine and 12 credits in religion and/or philosophy in addition to general education requirements, the college requirements within a university (for example, the school of business, the college of engineering or the school of education) and the requirements for a major.
In most cases the religion requirement is not in the faith under which the school is chartered. For example, Siena College (NY), a Franciscan college, does not require a course in Catholicism. Students can study religions of the world or learn about a faith other than their own. Grove City College has a Bible course and students also conduct their own Bible studies outside of the classroom.
In any case, students and families should decide if they want to have this instruction be part of their college education. Those who want to discuss, and possibly question, their religious identity might want to take these courses. Others might want to dedicate the credits to other things. It is best to know before you commit to a religiously affiliated school.
Does the college require students to sign a declaration of faith in order to begin a college education?
In my past working life I visited religiously affiliated colleges including Cedarville University (OH) and Taylor University (IN) that ask students to sign a declaration of faith before they enroll. Request and thoroughly read such documents before applying to such schools. Students who waiver on a commitment to faith could be dismissed, even if they are experiencing no academic difficulties. This will depend on the language of the document as well as the laws of the state where the college is located. If you have any questions or doubts about whether the declaration in enforceable, consult an attorney in the state where the college is located. If you are concerned about any obligations specified in the declaration of faith, mandatory chapel attendance, for example, address them before you sign.
Do the college’s leaders espouse philosophy beyond religion, and how might that philosophy impact your college education?
It is common to see presidents of religiously affiliated colleges become engaged in local, state and sometimes national politics. While a college president cannot force their views on students, s/he sets the tone for the campus culture. It is fair to ask whether a school welcomes students as well as guest speakers or lecturers of various viewpoints or of a singular view. Grove City College, as one example, welcomes numerous speakers, not all of the same viewpoint, to address their students, faculty and staff. So have religiously affiliated research universities such as Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame and the University of Denver, among others.
Will you be comfortable with the housing arrangements at a religiously affiliated college?
To date the religiously affiliated colleges that I have visited have either single-sex floors or single-sex residence halls, excluding apartments. Grove City College, as one example, imposes stricter visitation rules in single-sex residence halls than most secular schools I have visited. Students of the opposite sex are allowed to visit, but cannot stay overnight. Ask about residence life policies when you visit. They will not be the same from school to school. Also ask if the school will guarantee housing and for how long. Fordham, as one example, has nearly half of its students living off campus.
Different schools also have their own policies regarding fraternities and sororities. Grove City College has fraternities, but they are local and unique to the college. They must present their case for recognition to a review board every other year. Other schools such as Fordham and the University of Scranton have no Greek life at all.
In my reports on colleges I hold religiously affiliated colleges to performance standards as I would hold other schools. So should your family. Ask about retention and graduation rates as well as a school’s financial aid policies, if money is a factor. Ask about the school’s relationships with potential employers as well as success in helping students to continue their education. But also get the answers to the four questions discussed.
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