The Voice: Summer 2003

The Voice

Find your place in God’s world

What are the top five things you would look for in a college or university education? Low price? High academic quality? Great facilities? Safe environment? Moral values?

Sometimes those of us who work in higher education get nervous when questions are asked that way. We prefer to think that we are the heirs to more than a thousand years of educational tradition—and folks should just trust that we know what we’re doing.

Yet, when we realize that there are more than 3000 different places to obtain higher education in the United States alone, it’s obvious that those who are about to invest four years of their lives and thousands of dollars into their education are going to have a check list of values they’re looking for.

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed the American public to find out what people say is important as they make their college decisions. I was amazed to see that what people say they want seems to bear little resemblance to the decisions they actually make.    

For instance, forty-four percent of people say that attending a denominationally affiliated college is a priority for them. Yet, not more than 500 (mostly small) colleges out of the 3000 choices available today maintain any active church relationship.

Perhaps even more amazing, ninety-five percent of the respondents say that learning moral values is significant. Yet only about five percent of students attend a college where a Christ-centered context is affirmed. And every year about ninety percent of students continue to enroll in state or secularized private universities similar to one in a Midwestern state described in the same issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Apparently the state’s legislature had forbidden the state university from using state funds to purchase class materials that violated state pornography laws. But at the university’s request the governor vetoed the bill, claiming that providing students with such pornography at taxpayer expense was essential for the academic quality of certain
classes in the university.

Why do so many people choose colleges that do not meet what they told the survey are their important values in higher education? Is it cost? Are good colleges just too expensive? It doesn’t seem so. The same survey indicated that only a quarter of those surveyed admitted that they would be looking for the cheapest school they could find. And estimates of how much the family intended to pay fell well within the range of what the typical Dordt College parent pays.

My guess is that the answer lies in this survey item: ninety-two percent of people consider the greatest value of higher education is in preparing its graduates for a good job. This means that most people don’t actually make their educational choices on the basis of traditional values and cost but by calculating which college or university they think will help them to get the job they want.

If my guess is true, this should help a place such as Dordt College that has refused to separate preparation for a career from education that gives insight into God’s world. At Dordt we always have insisted that educational discovery into the nature of creation and its subsequent distortion by sin always needs to be focused on preparing for service in the redemption that Christ’s kingdom is bringing into this world. We regard “Cultivating Lives of Service” as more than a slogan—to us it’s a principle of education. That’s why we’re pleased that ninety-eight percent of our graduates are employed within six months of graduation—and we don’t intend to be satisfied with anything less.

Dordt College recently launched a new series of recruitment materials that demonstrate that commitment. They begin with a quote from Abraham Kuyper and focus on Christian higher education as providing a learning community of insight into God’s world so that our graduates can be prepared for a lifetime of service in Christ’s kingdom, no matter what their career. It remains to be seen whether today’s generation of prospective students and their families will make decisions based on such principles—or whether the survey is right in hinting that what most people want is the cheapest way to get a better job.

I hope there will be a host of students, in coming years, who will be attracted by a college that really is dedicated to helping them find their place and be prepared for service in God's world.