More Students Are Choosing a College for Religious as Well as Academic Reasons Higher Education

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy McAlister, Times-Union staff writer

Morgan Phillips is a senior at University Christian School who, like many of her peers, is waiting to hear if the college of her choice comes through with scholarship money.

The school is Liberty University, a private liberal arts institution in Lynchburg, Va. What appealed to her is that it's a Christian school, said Phillips, whose late father was a pastor. "I want to go there to be with other people who have the same goals for their lives, not just a career, but spiritually as well," she said.

At University Christian, Liberty and Word of Life Bible Institute are popular college choices. Kimberly Stidham, director of guidance, said she sees more students opting to attend faith-based schools.

But students at University Christian aren't the only ones making that commitment.

Enrollment at faith-based universities is booming, according to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. From 1990 to 1997, the number of students at its 97 member institutions in the United States climbed 32 percent, compared to 3.8 percent for all higher education institutions. But demand also extends beyond Bible colleges to include larger, more varied religiously affiliated institutions. Figures from the American Council on Education show that enrollment in all such schools has grown 43 percent since 1980.

College placement advisers at other area high schools say there is a steady number of graduating seniors interested in religiously affiliated institutions.

At Bishop Kenny High School, the University of Notre Dame tops the list of Catholic schools on senior radar screens. But its students, who represent a variety of denominations, also look at non-Catholic schools with present or past church ties, such as Stetson, Samford and Furman universities as well as such fundamentalist institutions as Liberty and Southeastern College.

Typically, church-affiliated schools have a more restricted environment than larger state universities.

"Many have a smaller campus with a more homogenous group, in that they have a common focus and goal," said Mary DeSalvo, director of guidance services at Bishop Kenny.

Admission directors say parents as well as students are interested in the moral and ethical virtues that a church-related institution promotes. Dana Paul, dean of admissions at Presbyterian College, said he thinks that's because they are seeking an alternative to an increasingly secular society where the value system is centered on monetary gain.

"There isn't as much emphasis on service to others and the spiritual sides of oneself," he said. "And we really do think that the moral, the ethical and the spiritual dimensions of education are phenomenally important, in terms of how you turn out as an adult, how you live your life and how you contribute to the society."

Susan Hallenbeck of St. Leo University agrees.

"They like the fact we're looking at personal development and integrity, and that we encourage spiritual growth," she said.

Just as not all St. Leo students are Catholic (30 percent aren't, in fact), not all at Presbyterian College are Presbyterian. An estimated 70 percent come from other denominations. At St. Leo, some are surprised the school has a Catholic-Jewish study center, Hallenbeck said. "It's the whole emphasis on what role does spirituality play in your life."

Liberty University, where applications are up 10 percent from a year ago, considers its mission is to challenge students' minds and build their faith. A Christian world view is taught with academic subjects, said Ernie Rogers, executive director of enrollment management. And the school sets boundaries that it thinks fosters safety: no girls in guy's dorms, and vice versa, and no alcohol or drugs.

Three weeks ago, the 30-year-old school began a recruitment campaign using billboards and radio. …