Is there still a place for Christian colleges in American higher ed?
- Leaders at colleges where the institutional brand is centered around religious affiliation are dismayed by research which says millennials are less likely to believe in God than members of previous generations and are less likely to be attracted to messaging about the value of a religious education, according to reporting in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- While many small colleges and women's colleges have begun to shift their messaging to appeal to these students' desire for a quality education with activities which speak to their more general "spirituality," rather than religious affiliations, some are hunkering down on the religious missions embracing even more Conservative values than they had in the past to appeal to what appears to be a growing ultra-Conservative population.
- The Boston Globe reported recently on a new institution, Sattler College, being created specifically for this population, funded with $30 million of founder Finny Kuruvilla's personal money. Saying the traditional higher ed model is broken, Kuruvilla hopes to start from a "clean slate" to provide students with a strong liberal arts curriculum entrenched in Conservative Christian values while keeping costs low for students — tuition is slated to cost $9,000 per year.
There is an ongoing debate, particularly for mission-driven institutions — single-gendered institutions, historically black or Hispanic-serving institutions, and religious institutions in particular — about the value of institutions which seem so narrowly focused in nature, and whether there are enough students to draw from to survive in today's crowded climate. Many leaders have grappled with whether to broaden the mission to attract new students, at the risk of upsetting alumni and other stakeholders. Such was the case when Darton State University merged into Albany State University in Georgia and dropped the historically black university designation in the mission statement. After quite a bit of public protest, it was added back in.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. In some cases, depending on the demographics of the feeder population and interests of the legislature, particularly for public institutions, it may be worth revising mission statements to attract a broader base of students and ensure the mission statement isn't limiting the institution. But in many cases, simply revising the marketing, as the Chronicle article noted many small and women's colleges are doing, can make all the difference.
Often, institutions — especially mission-driven institutions — have very proud histories and traditions, and they lean heavily on these when promoting the institutional value. But today's student is more concerned with "will I get a job when I graduate" and "can I afford this institution" (especially as Republicans continues to attack student loan forgiveness programs) than "does this institution nurture my spirit" or "which national leaders attended this institution 60 years ago." Adjusting the marketing to emphasize strength of programs and competitive value, rather than tradition, showcasing how students themselves will have an opportunity to influence history as a result of attending the institution, is a good practice for institutions of all type and mission.
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