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Presidents to parents: Why Christian education matters

Are Christian parents today as dedicated to Christian education as their parents were?

Many who work in Christian education say no. They look at enrollment trends and conclude that parents today aren’t as committed to sending their children to Christian schools as parents were in the past.

The Christian Chronicle asked the presidents of four universities associated with Churches of Christ to state the case for Christian education to parents. Two — David Burks of Harding University and Mike O’Neal of Oklahoma Christian University — will soon step down from their roles as president after long careers in Christian education.

Two more, Phil Schubert of Abilene Christian University and Joe Wiley of Freed-Hardeman University, began their tenures as president within the past five years.

Following are their responses to this question: “What do parents need to know about the importance of Christian higher education?”
David Burks, president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., since 1987
If I had to boil down my answer, I would simply take each of those three words and focus on them one at a time.
Very appropriately, the first term is Christian. For the Christian parent, nothing in this world is more important than doing all we can to pass faith on to our children. At a Christian university, the teachers are disciples of Jesus who are constantly challenged to teach every subject from a distinctly Christian world view.
While the norm in higher education is to remove God from the classroom before any discussion even begins, our professors teach every discipline based on the assumptions that God is, that Jesus is the divine Son of God, and that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative revelation of God.  
The second term, higher, reminds us that we are an academic institution of higher learning. In this, a Christian University doesn’t have to take a back seat to any other sort of school, public or private.
Our graduation speaker in December attended Harding back in the 1970s and went on to graduate with an MBA from Harvard School of Business. He assured our graduates that they “have the goods” to compete anywhere with anyone. This is the consistent feedback we receive from our former students. Whether it is in the work world, medical school, law school, or the most highly regarded Ph.D. programs in the world, our graduates tell us that they were at least as well prepared, and often better prepared, than their classmates who graduated from much larger and much more expensive universities.
Finally, the term education indicates that something is learned. The critical four years from 18 to 21 often set the course for the rest of a person’s life. Will they receive an education in worldliness or godliness, an education in self-absorption or service, an education in godless secularism or in faith-affirming theism?
Simply stated, Christian universities continue to deliver higher education in an academically superlative, thoroughly Christian way.
Joe Wiley, president of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., since 2008
I speak not just as a man who serves in a leadership role at a Christian university, but also as a father and as someone who has also served in public higher education.
In a world where moral ambiguity is celebrated and lines of truth are often blurred, students at a Christian university learn that the Bible teaches absolute truths. Each student is provided with a space to question and be challenged. We all, at some point, question the “truth of our fathers.”
At a school such as Freed-Hardeman, this question is asked and explored within the context of biblical truth, in an environment of Christian people. All of our professors, staff and adjunct teachers are members of the church of Christ. Eighty-five percent of our students are members of the church.
Because this world is often difficult to navigate, Christian education provides rigorous academic programs taught from a biblical perspective. Each academic discipline has a basis of study in God’s Word. For example, FHU teaches a class in personal finance. The professor, who has a Ph.D. in finance, teaches the class and uses biblical teaching regarding stewardship to guide his instruction.
The benefit of a Christian education reaches far beyond the individual student. The product we provide is a highly educated, well-rounded graduate, steeped in the knowledge of God’s word.
Our graduates are equipped to be leaders in the workplace, at home and in the church. Because they live, learn and grow in a climate of Christians, our graduates become people of service and fellowship. More importantly, they become people of faith. Because of the constant exposure to faithful, Christ-like examples in the classroom and in the dorm room, Christian college graduates simply out-perform their counterparts from public, non-Christian institutions.
A Christian college or university is not just a place of learning; it is an investment in the future of your child, the church and in the world. Can you think of a greater investment?
Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University in Texas since 2010
A quality college degree is a must-have in today’s fast-moving world and ultra-competitive job market. Employers and graduate schools think highly of students with a degree from a Christian university such as ACU. They trust us for the way our graduates are prepared academically, for their technical and team-building skills, and for their values and trustworthiness.
Today’s employers seek students with innovative minds. We take that seriously at ACU, which has fueled our focus on mobile learning as we re-imagine the 21st-century classroom. Christian colleges and universities provide unprecedented personal mentoring and have generous scholarship programs and a career-minded campus culture to help students choose a major, land a great job or earn a valuable spot in graduate school.
Many of today’s most effective elders, deacons, ministers and other church leaders attended Christian colleges and universities. Our campuses are ideal places for young people to learn about leadership, develop servant hearts, make friends with other Christians their age, travel the world to experience other cultures and be mentored by professors who inspire them to lives of purpose in which God is honored and involvement in a local congregation is a priority.
A quality college education is not inexpensive, but one of the biggest factors contributing to the cost is the time it takes a student to earn a degree. For various reasons, many students are taking five and six years to graduate.
The truth is that any delay — changing majors, changing schools, not being able to get the classes they need to graduate on time — can increase the cost of a student’s education and give their peers an advantage in the job market or competition for graduate school. ACU now offers an annual block tuition program in which a student can take up to 36 credit hours each year for one price (including summer, online and study abroad), and graduate in four years or less. The potential savings can be dramatic.
Mike O’Neal, president of Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City since 2002
I ask parents to consider the following as they evaluate the educational options for their children.  
A “Christian” university is not just a safe environment in which one learns skills for a vocation. The basic premise of Christian higher education (CHE) is this — “God is and He is the creator.” This is an ontological claim — a worldview — of enormous significance. Unfortunately, that worldview is no longer found in most of higher education.  
The Biblical worldview provides no excuse for academic mediocrity — to the contrary, it calls us to excellence in everything because we are handling His gifts and His learning for His purposes.  There is abundant evidence that graduates of CHE are extremely well-prepared to compete in all walks of life.  
In CHE there is freedom to ask the great questions of life, probe for deeper meaning, and adopt the values that will guide our lives at a crucial formative time of life under the mentoring of caring Christian faculty and staff.
The universities of past generations are not the universities of today, and many seek to make faith irrelevant and encourage social morays antithetical to God’s will. Recent studies confirm that we lose 55 to 65 percent of youth who attend secular universities, but only 10 to 15 percent who attend CHE. Studies also confirm that diligent students who attend CHE are much more likely to graduate in four years — dramatically decreasing the financial cost of college. The massive financial aid offered at CHE greatly narrows the cost gap with state-supported institutions.
Our children are the most important treasure God has entrusted to us. Helping our children serve God faithfully is the highest duty of parental stewardship, trumping every other desire for our children. What good is it if our children gain the whole world, yet lose their own souls?
I encourage parents to read Proverbs 1 and 16 as they pray for wisdom in this critical matter. And finally, brothers, encourage our children to consider whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

  • Feedback
    The fact that only 1 of my 3 children attended a Stone-Campbell college is not due to a lack of faith, but a lack of funds. One simply has to consider the crippling debt our graduates have when leaving these schools. Our oldest daughter went to ACU because she had a great scholarship. Our next two went to other schools in large part to avoid huge debt.
    We need to stop pointing fingers at parents and children who can’t afford such debt, calling them faithless or questioning their commitment. Student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and that’s the only hope some of these graduates have.
    My son went to Berea (KY) where ever student receives 100% tuition. Could we follow this model?
    Steve Kenney
    North Central Church of Christ
    Indianapolis, IN
    May, 10 2012

    I was wondering why York College was not included with the article Presidents to Parents: Why Christian Education Matters. The smaller Christian Colleges struggle and need all the recognition they can get. We just had another small college go out of business, the only time I read about Western Christian College in the Christian Chronicle was when we were notified it was going under. I think our smaller Christian Colleges have just as much value to the brotherhood as the larger ones.
    Ted Mountjoy
    Forum Christian Church
    Fayette, Missouri
    April, 27 2012

    Interesting responses and encouraging for the future of CHE. I would be interested in see more pieces like this that allow for responses from the rest of our University’s presidents to give their perspective on CHE.
    Otter Creek
    Nashville, TN
    April, 24 2012

    Interesting and distinct response from Phil Schubert.
    Western Hills Church of Christ
    Temple, TX
    United States
    April, 24 2012

Filed under: Dialogue

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