Saturday, January 15, 2011

Denominational Colleges Losing Grip on Denominational Students

When I started at Concordia (then River Forest, now Chicago) in 1982, I was welcomed  upon my arrival on campus to a rather pronounced controversy over the "Lutheran" character of the institution.  Some students (many of whom, as I recall, were pre-seminary), put together a paper that raised issues about what they believed was the increasingly tenuous confessional character of the college (now university).  Later James Tunstead Burtchaell's The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans, 1998) appeared.  The subtitle said it all, even as Burtchaell drew on my alma mater for one of his case studies.  

The conversation continues.  I'm shamelessly poaching the following from Incarnatus Est, Greg Alms' blog


Denominational colleges losing grip on denominational students.

Generic Christian U. by Bobby Ross Jr. ( From CT ... click here.)

Faith-based universities with historically strong denominational ties—Nazarene, Mennonite, and Southern Baptist schools among them—are enrolling fewer students from within their own ranks.

Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), said the trend, seen even in institutions with "very strong, close connections" to denominations, is bound to shape future denominational leadership.

For example, at 18 schools associated with the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), members of associated churches composed 70 percent of first-year students a decade ago. By fall 2009, that figure had dropped to 53 percent, according to a study by the Harding University Center for Church Growth.

The perceived high cost of a Christian education alongside drops in denominational loyalty have contributed to the changing demographics, said Corts and others.
"So many people now think that everything is just a different flavor," said Mike O'Neal, president of Oklahoma Christian University, a Church of Christ school. "If I'm a Methodist, generally I don't care that a university is Nazarene or Calvinist or whatever. The perception is, we're all alike."

At Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Mennonites represent 45 percent of undergraduates, a decline from previous decades, said president Loren Swartzendruber.

"We know from surveys that a Mennonite student who attends a Mennonite college will be far more likely to be active in a Mennonite congregation as an adult," he said. "Consequently, this trend not only impacts potential leaders but general membership."
Over the past decade, the proportion of Nazarene students at Point Loma Nazarene University has dropped from 30 percent to about 20 percent, said Scott N. Shoemaker, the San Diego school's associate vice president for enrollment.

"The loyal adherence to attending a denominational institution has certainly been diluted through the weakening of historic ties to the church and its clergy," he said.

Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tennessee, has bucked the trend "with intentional outreach to Baptist students," said Rich Grimm, senior vice president for enrollment services. Its entering class is about 65 percent Baptist.
However, Grimm said that by design or not, "There are a number of schools enrolling significantly fewer Baptist students."

Amid heightened competition for students, some universities acknowledge marketing more aggressively outside their denomination. Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University in Texas, said that his school is no less determined to reach out to its Churches of Christ base, "but we're also making a direct appeal to students who [value] our brand of Christian education."

Much of the evidence of the trend remains anecdotal, Corts acknowledged. "I don't know that anyone has done a detailed study on why it's the case," he said. The CCCU might conduct just such a review.


Ryan said...

It would be interesting to do a study on this in our CUS. Apparently Ann Arbor, from what I just heard somewhere (don't remember where though) is only 39% Lutheran. I wonder what would happen to that number if our CUS schools were more intentionally Lutheran instead of more generic Christian colleges.

Pam Nielsen said...

I remember those years at RF. I arrived in the fall of 1980 as a churchwork bound student. Like you, I was part of the majority in the student body then- eager Lutheran pre seminary, DCE, teacher and deaconess students - but the times, they were a changing. If my memory serves, that paper you mention led to a campus showdown with the dean of students. That didn't go well. Already then we had professors who taught naive freshmen evolutionary theory as fact, taught psychology devoid of theology and historical critical theology as truth in the entry level classes. By the time I returned from my internship for my 5th year I was part of the minority. The atmosphere had changed, the campus life was vastly different. For the money I have found it hard to even recommend a synodical school to my children. A secular school with a vibrant LCMS campus ministry is strong competion given lower tuition costs and often more truly confessional Word and Sacrament ministry.

roger said...

If I remember correctly the numbers CUS sent out:
25000 students on their campuses of which only approx 2500 hundred are in church worker programs. I recognize as Pam said that the times they are changing and believe that before long most of the faculties at these institutions will no longer be Lutheran in any kind of fashion. I am appalled that CUS which seeks the support of the LCMS cannot charge higher tuition to non Church worker students so as to lower the cost for church worker. Because they won't/don't many church work students come out with high debt into lower than normal salaries.
Pr. Roger Sterle