I was recently asked about my thoughts on how Christians should choose a college by a father with three young teens. I remember my nervous feeling as I approached that period in the parenting and discipleship of my children. I felt I had a pretty good strategy for the young years and the teen years. But when it came to further education I did not have much of a plan.
Factors In Walking Away
Why is college a time of walking away? Scripture tells us that we are rightly influenced by our parents, pastors, and friends. This is part of God’s plan. And yet, “going away to college” throws all three of those up in the air.
Parents are often distant. Church commitment is questionable. And usually, the young person is making new friends. If he or she does not have much discernment or is easily influenced, this is a recipe for disaster.
In addition, college is billed as a time to “find yourself,” to examine everything you have been taught.
And who is helping the young person do that? A wise person who has lived through the ups and downs of life? No, a professor who has lived in the pretend world of academia all of his life. He or she has earned a Ph.D., which amounts to learning a lot about one microspeck of knowledge. Too often, we shower respect on those who may have large amounts of knowledge but little of God’s (or life’s!) wisdom.
Let me just balance this by recognizing and praising God for wise brothers and sisters who have persevered in gaining advanced education. And I am thankful for those who faithfully minister in a college setting. I would have given anything as an undergraduate to know that there were Christian professors at my secular university! Nevertheless, the previous comment is aimed at the near universal, priest-like status that our culture awards those with a Ph.D.
Does everyone need a college education? In today’s world, with most colleges increasingly hostile to the Christian worldview, this is a valid question.
In addition, some are gifted with their hands and need technical training more than a general college education. However, as a dad I felt that not having a college piece of paper would limit my children later in life. For our children, this seemed like the proper option.
Advice to My Younger Self
But what factors should I consider with so many options?
If I could go back to my younger self during that tumultuous time, here is the advice I would give:
1. Do not promise help with college. Legally and morally, I am done at 18. Any continued financial support is a privilege and assumes they continue their walk with the Lord and developing their marketable skills.
My support can be pulled at any time. Semester by semester. Year by year. After 18, it is year by year. And everyone knows this going into the process. This is said to them with a heart of affection and love that wants their best. It is not meant to control. It is merely meant to communicate that if they want to live a life apart from the Lord, they will do it on their own dime.
2. Choose a college that has a strong on-campus fellowship and church. The best way to find help against the temptations of college life and the deceitful philosophies is to stay connected with other believers and other pastors/leaders. There are better answers to every argument they will hear, but those presenting it will not show them the errors of their thinking. If they are going to keep my financial support, they will be actively committed to these.
3. Counter-intuitively, you might choose a large school over a small school. Smaller schools tout the fact that the professors are able to interact more closely with their students. In this day and age, that is exactly what you don’t want.
In small colleges, the professors see their job as molding your child into their (superior) image. It seems that the anonymity of a larger school might be better.
4. Choose a school that is close to home or a relative. This allows you to stay in contact and children to come home occasionally for weekends and small holidays.
Thus, at this point in my life, I can see the advantages of a large state school with a strong fellowship or a small, strong Bible college. I would not choose a Christian or non-Christian liberal arts college. Institutions invariably drift away from Christianity. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, like Cedarville University or Grove City College. But they are just that–exceptions.
In a church, nonbiblical ideas lead to lack of attendance and the ultimate demise of the church. In a college, the ideas are more insidious. And the professors are more sheltered from the consequences of their ideas.
I pray these thoughts are helpful knowing that some will have differing ideas. In addition, there are always unique circumstances that might change some of these principles. Nevertheless, this is the advice I would give to my younger self.