Each year, tens of thousands of Christian parents and their youth go through the process of determining which undergraduate institution is the best choice for the young man or woman. Those part of this exciting yet often painstaking processparents and children alikeconsider everything from a school's size and location to its program offerings and, with Christian schools, its values and theological emphases.
Sometimes parent and child agree on what they are looking for. Sometimes they don't. Parents want their sons and daughters to be safe. Students want to be safe, too, but they also want to have fun. Those who just graduated from high school want to feel at home at the place they choose. Many parents are inclined to think more practically ("major in something that will ensure a good job"), whereas children are more likely to pursue what interests them, even if Fortune 500 companies are not exactly waiting in line to hire the next graduate with a Medieval Art History degree.
Perhaps most significantly, children are generally less inclined than their parents to consider the cost of college, perhaps figuring that, after all, Mom and Dad are going to be the ones paying for it.
Feeling the Pain
For a long time, Christian parents have had to weigh the many advantages of attending a Christian institution with the greater affordability of state-supported schools. Undoubtedly, administrators at Christian colleges and universities empathize with Christian parents facing these decisions: They feel their pain in these tough economic times.
"Most of the prospective students and parents we work with have concerns about affordability," says Roscoe Smith, associate vice president for enrollment management at Cedarville University (Cedarville, Ohio). "They value the Christ-centered education and experience offered at Cedarville, but they are also weighing the cost."
In July 2008, Cedarville surveyed current high school seniors, 77 percent of whom, according to Smith, said that paying for college would be "quite difficult" or "somewhat difficult." Says Smith, "If we conducted the same survey today, given our current economic climate, I would expect that percentage to be even higher."
According to James Steen, vice president of enrollment management at Houston Baptist University (HBU), many prospective students considering HBU are also considering community colleges or state schools, largely because of cost. Steen notes that there are currently more than 60,000 community college students in the Houston area. Says Steen, "We also have several well-known state schools in close proximity that are significantly less expensive than HBU."
According to John Mayner, director of admissions at the Portland, Oregonbased Multnomah University, many Christian families make decisions believing that local churches or parachurch ministries can give young people the Christian values that are lacking in secular college environments. However, Mayner and most others associated with Christian higher education maintain that the church and parachurch can rarely adequately replicate the experience of being immersed "full-time" in a Christian learning community.
Splitting Time: A Wise Choice?
Some Christian families consider resolving their dilemma with a split-time option. Either they plan for the student to spend the first two years at a Christian school before transferring, or for the student to spend the first two years at a state school or community college before transferring to a Christian institution.
For several reasons, administrators at Christian schools find it difficult to recommend either option (see the sidebar "Where to Begin?"). For one thing, a student who transfers after two years will typically end up having to go more than four years because not all credits transfer.