Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Enrollment Surges at Faith-Based Colleges ; Boom Comes in Reaction to a Perceived Decline in Morality, Culture of Materialism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Enrollment Surges at Faith-Based Colleges ; Boom Comes in Reaction to a Perceived Decline in Morality, Culture of Materialism

Article excerpt

While a senior last spring at a high school in Platte City, Mo., Elaine Brown had her eye on Southwest Missouri State University, the college her older brother attends.

But a friend was visiting Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, and Elaine hadn't used up all of her allotted college-visit days. So, on a whim, she decided to make the trip. Result: a new applicant.

"I wasn't raised in a Christian home," she says. "My parents really wanted me to go to a [secular] university, but I didn't want that."

Now a freshmen at Missouri Baptist, Elaine is one of thousands of students propelling an enrollment boom at faith-based colleges and universities across the country.

In an age when many young people are seeking more moral rigor in their lives, a growing number are choosing to attend religious- affiliated schools, where class sizes are often small and the emphasis on values overt.

Between 1990 and 1998, the student population at the 100 member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) jumped 35 percent. It rose 12 percent over the same period for all institutions with religious affiliations. That compares with a 5 percent increase at private colleges and 4 percent at public universities.

"The numbers show that, while parts of society may be drifting deeper into materialism and a me-first attitude about life, there are still ... millions of parents and students saying there must be something more and better to life, and they want that something to be part of their college education," says Robert Andringa, president of the CCCU.

A boom in the number of home-schooled students from 1 million in 1992 to 1.5 million today, plus a surge in enrollment at Christian private high schools, has contributed to the recruitment pool for Christian colleges.

But broader cultural factors are at work as well. Some, in fact, see a direct connection between a decline of morality in America and fuller classrooms at faith-based colleges. "There are a lot of people reacting to the direction our culture is taking," says Alton Lacey, president of Missouri Baptist College. "Those are the people we see coming to our institution."

The school prohibits alcohol, tobacco, and dancing on campus. Its enrollment has tripled in the past 10 years, to 3,000.

A buoyant economy may be contributing to the enrollment surge, too. Joel Carpenter, provost of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., cites surveys showing the upward mobility of evangelical Christians, leaving many better able to afford college.

At the same time, academic standards have risen at faith-based schools. …

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