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    Paying for more than a Diploma

    In an economic crunch, many families still choose a Christian college education. Here's why.

    Diane Vescovi

    When household expenses climb and the economy slumps, some things in a family's budget must be cut. But when the parents we spoke to were choosing the areas to cut, one thing they did not want to skimp on was their child's higher education.

    The idea that a college education is an investment is a reality, not a cliché, for these parents. They see Christian higher education as one way God's kingdom advances in and through their children's lives, and coming up with the necessary funds becomes an adventure in seeing God at work.

    We are grateful for the schools and families who were willing to participate in this article.

    Their lives are a great testimony to what God does when his people are intent on walking in his will and knowing his ways.

    A college that makes you 'stand on your tiptoes'

    Joy McLeod follows three brothers' and both her mother's and father's footsteps at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her mother, Carol, says that when Joy saw the quality of her brothers' friends and the type of students they were, "that's who she wanted to be, and that's who she wanted to be friends with." Joy saw that these young adults were having fun and yet were determined to make a difference.

    Joy's greatest interest in Oral Roberts is how it seeks to send out the next generation of world changers. Her mother recalls that students she ate with in the cafeteria and ran with on the track team are now prominent Christian leaders, some even state congressmen and legislators.

    "Joy is going in the best days of Oral Roberts University's history. It is a healthy and positive place for her," Carol says. Every dorm on campus was renovated over the summer. Of special interest to Joy, who wants to major in piano performance, are the many new pianos on campus.

    When Carol was a freshman in 1973, the president said at opening ceremonies, "Make no small plans here." Carol says, "Something about Oral Roberts stretches you. It makes you stand on your tiptoes." She wants Joy to have an experience of reaching beyond what she thinks is possible for herself and dreaming big dreams.

    Joy received scholarships for music and academics, an award from the school's Founders' Club, and an alumni award.

    "There are very fine Christian schools in western New York where we live, but we believe this investment in Joy's education is worth it," says Carol.

    "I was contemplating a couple of different colleges that had really good programs for music," Joy says. "I chose Oral Roberts University because I think I can grow spiritually there. I've been to the worship and chapel services and have seen how God is present. Students there grow in the Lord."

    Two chapels are held on campus each week, and every wing in the dorms has a student chaplain who holds devotions a couple nights a week. In addition to the worship and discipleship at the school, Carol says the students gain a solid Christian worldview in the classes. Her one son, an English major, read all the contemporary, secular literature but learned to look at it from a Christian perspective. "They don't narrow a student's education," Carol says.

    A college where friendships can blossom

    Danielle John went to high school with other high-achieving kids from professional families when her family was living in the United Kingdom. Her father, Scott, says that the pressure to attend an Ivy League college was intense. Still, her parents thought, She needs to get a good education at a school where she can blossom in all aspects of who she is. They believe Danielle found such a school in Harding University, located in Searcy, Arkansas.

    Danielle decided that she wanted to find a suitable college from among Christian schools, which pleased her parents. "We felt that a Christian education would be well worth the money because Danielle and her total well being are most important to us," her father says. As it turned out, Danielle received a Trustee Scholarship that covers all of her tuition. Her parents will help with other costs, and her grandparents made a contribution as well.

    "Danielle didn't want a college that just has Christian in the name. She was looking at the ones where Christian faith is focal and spiritual things have priority," says Scott. He and Danielle's mother, Kelli, are happy that she will be at school with many like-minded Christians. Some of the friendships she forms in college will last her lifetime. They are also confident that her professors will have a genuine concern for her and will teach from a Christian perspective. "We knew Danielle would thrive in that environment," they said.

    An honors scholar in high school and now entering Harding with an academic scholarship, Danielle will be in the honors program, which means she will have smaller classes and more challenging assignments. While she lived abroad with her family, Danielle traveled to several European destinations. Thus, Harding's study-abroad program, which includes a well-established program in France, has particular appeal for Danielle. She has been studying French for four years, but thinks that she will major in English and minor in French.

    Like her parents, Danielle wanted a school that would give her the best overall experience. She perceives that Harding's professors really care about their students and want them to succeed. "You can ask about your future life, not just to get through school," she says. Danielle expects that it will be easy to make friends with other students she will have a lot in common with, and that is an encouraging factor. The campus itself also swayed Danielle. "I can see myself enjoying being there all the time — in classes, studying abroad, and at the campus. It's a place where I will really like being."

    A science guy's dream college

    David Auld had the goal of going to medical school when he chose to attend Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. "OBU has an exceptional acceptance rate into medical school, and students going through the science program tend to excel during and after medical school," David says. His older brother attended the same school, and, as a dental student now, he attests to having been well prepared.

    David has excelled at the university, becoming one of 10 students nominated to conduct research at the nationally known Oklahoma Research Foundation as a Flemings scholar. In addition to his focus on science, David is an honors student who enjoys three culminating events during his course of studies: traveling abroad, writing a thesis, and doing a service project.

    David's obtaining a thorough knowledge base in science has not precluded a solid liberal arts education. He notes that he has taken classes in history, English, music, art, philosophy, religion, and foreign language. "I have become well versed in many areas, and this education will allow me to adapt quickly to the changing world," he says. "It has taught me to think for myself and to think creatively. It's something I would not trade."

    David's parents have noticed that OBU's work ethic and emphasis on critical thinking are strong. They appreciate the broad-based curriculum that turns out well-rounded students. Students there are required to take an Old Testament class, a New Testament class, and biblical ethics as part of the unified studies program (general education requirements).

    "We are very impressed with the caliber of the students and faculty," says Jane Ann. "Every professor the boys had freshman year were Ph.D.s." When David visited the school, he and his parents noticed that the students looked happy. David's mother says, "They talked about God in the science department." That is not unusual, according to David: "Professors are not indoctrinating students, but when a topic that relates to the faith is broached, it is openly discussed from a Christian point of view." He says that the school holds to the belief that "all truth is God's truth," to quote Arthur Holmes.

    David sees Oklahoma Baptist University as an environment where Christians can thrive while pursuing a quality education. "It is an environment that pours into the student and allows the student to overflow into the community," he says. "Also, the professors become close friends and mentors here and will help you through tough situations. I became ill during one of my more difficult semesters, and all of my professors worked diligently to help me finish the semester on time." When David was in the hospital, his professors e-mailed daily to check on him. His mother says the dean of students called several times.

    The cost for David to attend OBU is comparable to the cost of the public schools he considered. Scholarships and help from his parents are financing his education, and he also receives a school-granted distinguished scholar award, which pays half of the tuition every year. David's church has also contributed $500 each semester.

    Becoming an agent of renewal

    Rebecca Dorn had a big say in choosing between a Christian or public college, but her parents definitely encouraged her toward Christian education and are happy that she chose Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Irv and Liz Dorn feel a responsibility to see that their daughter is equipped for service in God's kingdom after college. "It's a benefit, as well as a mandate, to look at all of life under God's control," Irv says.

    When Rebecca visited a public institution with her parents, the three of them discussed how to understand the school from a Christian perspective. Rebecca especially considered how what was happening there would influence her, molding and shaping her from a spiritual standpoint. All three could see how secular the environment and philosophy really were. "It was contrary to what we as parents would teach and would want to have taught to our child," says Irv.

    When they compared the value of a Christian and public education, Rebecca and her parents saw a significant benefit in the all-encompassing education she would receive at Calvin, one that is commensurate with the cost difference. Rebecca will not receive financial assistance, but Irv says, "Though it may sound clichéd, this is flat out an investment in our child's life."

    Irv and Liz are glad that Rebecca will have a "bigger pond" at Calvin. She went to a small Christian high school and could benefit from a broader environment, both socially and academically. At the same time, Rebecca has slight attention deficit disorder that is a challenge for her from time to time, and Calvin seeks to provide students who need extra help with assistance, resources, and tutoring. Irv says, "It's a hard school, with high academic standards, no bones about it. They will set you up for success, but students have to avail themselves of the tools that are there."

    Even the toughest topics are not off limits at Calvin. "Calvin won't turn a blind eye to anything going on in the world," Irv says. "The professors inspire students to ask, 'What are we going to do to be agents of renewal in God's world as that pertains to these issues?' " Rebecca's parents feel that a head-on approach strengthens Christian belief. This has been true for their older daughter, Melanie, who is enrolled there. Irv says Calvin has been "great for Melanie."

    Rebecca is interested in Calvin's nursing program, a difficult one to qualify for. After two years of liberal arts studies, a student can then apply for one of the limited spots in the nursing track. Although Rebecca has that interest now, her parents know that may change. Their primary hope is that at Calvin Rebecca will learn to be an agent of renewal in the world due to Calvin's deliberate approach to Christian education.

    Answering God's call to a particular college

    Staci Wolford was valedictorian of her public high-school graduating class. She is an accomplished piano player and saxophonist, playing in the high school marching band, concert band, and jazz ensemble. A well-rounded young person, she has been involved in volunteer activities in her community and through her church. Knowing her many strengths, Staci's parents felt that she would do well wherever she went to further her education, in any field she chose.

    Staci wanted to know what her parents thought of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, when they toured the school. "As her mom, I thought that she would thrive at the college, and I would be at peace if she made the decision to go there," says Tammy. "Her dad and I were really impressed by how the school is centered on God. We also felt that it would be a great place for her to grow musically."

    Staci believed God was calling her to Southeastern, and her parents were ready to help her walk in God's will. She busily filled out scholarship applications in the spring of her senior year. Her parents' income level disqualified her for need-based assistance, but then Staci began to receive scholarships, including ones from her church, her father's employer, and the Assemblies of God youth and Christian higher education department. The school offered her the Academic Regents Scholarship of $6,000, along with a traveling grant and music scholarship. To make up the full cost of her education, her parents are using U.S. Savings Bonds and some retirement savings.

    Staci is excited to be going to a Christian school. She was a "light" to her friends in the public high school, her mother says, but she was often disappointed because most of them did not come to faith in Christ. "The public school system needs faithful Christians such as she was, and we don't regret our decision," Tammy says. "But now we pray that at Southeastern, she will get to know a lot of friends who are walking the walk — friends who share her passion for Christ."

    "I had been considering several other Christian colleges, but I truly believe that God has directed me to Southeastern," Staci says. "I believe that Southeastern will be a place where I can grow emotionally, mentally, and most importantly, spiritually. I think the most exciting part is that I will be surrounded by so many classmates and teachers who share my love for Christ. The campus is gorgeous and the professors I have talked to are wonderful, but to be honest, I haven't decided to go to SEU for those reasons. I have chosen to attend Southeastern because God has directed me there. And for that, I can't wait to see what he has in store!"

    God certainly has much in store for these five young people, as well as for their many peers who enrolled this fall in Christian colleges and universities. They wrestled wisely with the decision about which college to attend, and, with their parents' careful guidance, they chose well.

    Diane Vescovi is a freelance writer who lives in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Her writing for online and print publications has focused on holistic missions and ministries.