The Voice: Summer 2003
Find your place in Gods 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 traditionand folks should just trust
that we know what were doing.
Yet, when we realize that there are more than 3000 different places to
obtain higher education in the United States alone, its 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 theyre
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 states legislature had forbidden the state university from using
state funds to purchase class materials that violated state pornography laws. But at
the universitys 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 doesnt 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 dont 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 Gods 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 Christs
kingdom is bringing into this world. We regard Cultivating Lives of Service as
more than a sloganto us its a principle of education. Thats why were
pleased that ninety-eight percent of our graduates are employed within six months of
graduationand we dont 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 Gods world so
that our graduates can be prepared for a lifetime of service in Christs
kingdom, no matter what their career. It remains to be seen whether todays
generation of prospective students and their families will make decisions based on such
principlesor 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.