Why College?

Do you recall the parable of the two sons?  (Matt. 21: 28-32)  Though intended to make a spiritual point, the parable is effective because the listener understands the basic, earthly parallel—that one who carries through is more approved than one who is slothful and unwilling to work, despite how they view themselves.  The one who did not wish to help in the vineyard but who finally got up and went out to do the hard work for his father is honored, and is certainly productive.

As Christians and homeschoolers, we know that our education does not end after grade 12.  We are called to pursue lifelong learning and growth, to present ourselves to our Father a workman who has rightly handled the Word of Truth and the good gifts He has given us to employ for His Kingdom.

High School graduates necessarily must focus on continuing education and skills throughout adulthood, growing as leaders in the home, church, and community.  They must realistically prepare for:  adult responsibilities, employment, at least minimal but educated political involvement, and intelligent engagement with others in the community as a Christian witness, fellow citizen, and good neighbor.  In a few years they will be raising families of  their own and will need to address the issues that impact their children, often defending parental rights and family values before local and state leaders, examining the spiritual ‘culture’ in their church, looking to their relative’s health care options, doing market research to start a business,  evaluating how to make financial investments, or perhaps expanding a ministry to disadvantaged youth.

As we seek to honor the Lord in all our adult decisions and efforts, we realize that we need specific knowledge and godly wisdom.  Christian adults want to learn so that they can be most productive.  Learning, hard work, and fruitful lives go hand in hand.

And furthering our education by any good means will help us engage fruitfully with others.  People who are eager to learn are attractive and interesting to others who do the same.

College is one avenue to furthering our education.  Christian college can provide a number of godly adult mentors and peers in the journey and help us to keep us focused on Kingdom, not just personal, goals.

Here are some reasons why college can be very beneficial:

1.  Competitive economy – It will be those young men and women who sought the further training, the opportunity to build leadership, and the challenge to increase their skills of analysis, problem-solving, writing, speaking, field work, etc. who will have the best chance at jobs that lead to promotions and responsibility, the kind of work that can support a family and pass on training to their children.  Today’s teachers, physical therapists, and marine biologists, for example, must have at least a masters degree or higher to qualify for positions of employment.  Years ago, a bachelor’s degree would have been sufficient for all three of those example occupations.  A high school diploma alone does not offer as many open doors, especially when it comes to management or other such levels of responsibility.  Additionally, in general, higher education affords the opportunity for higher income jobs.  With only a high school diploma, it can be difficult to advance in income earnings as well as in responsibility.

Although some girls might determine they will simply marry, it is not certain that you they will marry soon (and thus will need work to support themselves or contribute to family expenses) or that their husbands will always find work; any skills or degree the wife has earned will go a long way in support of the family during hard times.

2.  Respect for learning and intellectual accomplishment – It takes a real self-starter to continue his or her education throughout adulthood without the stimulus of college rigors, professors, or colloquiums.  Most high school teens think they know most everything that is important UNTIL they are later challenged to higher level thinking in college.  Until one is exposed higher education, he does not know what he is missing.  A good college provides an array of opportunities to grow intellectually and culturally, to be inspired by peers and adults who are stretching their minds and talents, and to be humbled by exposure to ‘all that one does not yet know’, such that there will grow a continuing curiosity and appreciation for learning and accomplishment in one’s life, inspiring his or her children in the same pursuit.

3.  Self-selecting peer group – The more challenging the college, the more likely you are to find peers who want to grow and learn, apply themselves, take on responsibility, engage in stimulating conversation and meaningful activities & leadership.  In addition, a strongly academic Christian college will offer many peers who, like you, are selecting the college for its focus on Faith & Scripture.  The relationships you form will help develop your own faith and character.

4.  Adult mentors – College provides a unique opportunity to engage with adult mentors, people who have committed their lives to the growth and education of young men and women.  Not all professors are to be emulated, of course, but you will find Christian professors or Christian ministry staff workers on most any campus; these adults cherish the time to counsel & instruct you, point you to campus ministries and churches, apprenticeships, or projects that suit your needs, skills, or interests, and even serve as faculty supervisors for your own club ideas.  If you remain local, ideally you will continue to worship with your family at your home church and begin to engage in the church community as a young adult, offering some time and your spiritual gifts, as we are commanded in Scripture.  If you are away from home, local pastors (of churches strategically planted near colleges) are grateful to impact your life for four years and to have you serve the Church community with your gifts, as well.  Studies show that the most important indicator of whether a Christian will remain in the faith after college and into adulthood is his or her regular church attendance throughout the college years; as wonderful as campus ministries and campus Bible studies are to discipleship, they do NOT take the place of Church, only serve to deepen your walk with Christ.  So seek out adults with whom to learn and work side by side at church during your college years.  The combination of a regular campus Bible study and faithful Church attendance is the BEST way to secure your footsteps in the faith.

5.  Long term gratification – Students who attend college (for four, six, or even eight or more years for a doctoral degree) are practicing the important focus of long-term gratification.  They recognize that some goals are worth the time and effort to achieve, so they make plans for college not because they “feel like it” at the time, but because they know the years at school are a great investment.  Many of our parents and grandparents and great grandparents made lifelong sacrifices so that their children and grandchildren could have the opportunity of higher education even if they themselves were not blessed with the chance to go to college.  They saw its value and were willing to forego short term gratification so that they could bless their descendants and maybe even see them receive their diplomas.  Our culture hammers us with temptations for short term gratification, but adulthood without a bachelor’s degree is a tough road that, although it might not make academic demands on you, comes with its own unavoidable set of challenges and hardships.  Those who look back, regretting they did not go to college, find it especially challenging to earn a degree while raising a family and/or holding down a job.

6.  Forward Motion – Unless:  1) your family has a business or farm at which you will train and gain marketable skills, 2)  you can quickly start your own successful business, or 3) you find alternate places and adult mentors who will train you well, it is possible that without a college education, you might find yourself in a stagnant place — not growing, not being challenged with anything new, and yet watching your friends move on to greater adult responsibilities.  College students who take their academics and leadership seriously find many opportunities to engage with peers and mentors in their field, get excited about new advances in their field and the projects they can manage or support, and have much to “teach” their family as they experience courses from favorite professors.  There are clubs and activities on campus, college ministry retreats, traditions, chapels, performances, games, competitions, and the like.  Life seems to move forward in a fulfilling way!  Graduates become nurses, educators, engineers, accountants, pastors, translators, business managers, dentists, veterinarians, software programmers, nutritionists, scientists, etc., propelling them into continued growth in their careers.  But they also become educated in a broad way, especially if they study at a liberal arts college, and including valuable Bible training if they study at a Christian liberal arts college.  There you can delve into particular areas of history and the arts, gain a better understanding of our nation’s economics and how it impacts everything from local businesses to national politics, learn to debate or perform or use a research library, do field work or foreign study, attend lectures by famous people or Christian pastors and authors invited to campus, set up booths or write articles to enlist the help of fellow students on major projects or to contribute towards important causes & ministries, enjoy worship around a bonfire with fellow students one day and meet them for impromptu prayer the next, learn how much you are capable of doing that you never dreamed you could do or would enjoy learning.

7.  Ideas – College is an inspiring place!  My husband and I love to walk our sons’ campuses and remember the excitement of classes, events, debates, lectures, and of course, books galore.  There is an aura about a favored professor, so well versed in his field and compelling in his analysis.  There is something stimulating about a student group gathered to do a challenging project or enter a competition.  There is an unexplainable fulfillment that comes from increasing one’s understanding on a topic (I taught about this in my class on Reading with Purpose, where I summarized the ideas from How to Read a Book).  Yes, there are colleges purporting bad ideas, and any school will have its bad professors.  But I can tell you from my experience in Christian college, and from that of our two sons, that if you learn to filter information through Scripture, there is still much to be gained from godly, experienced professors in all fields of learning.  Both Chet and Nathan, at their respective Christian schools, had the confidence that there education would be valuable, even if they found their particular major disappointing and decided to change majors.  Neither one changed majors, however; they have been very pleased with the education they received which has inspired them not only to hone their skills and ideas in their field (computer science and business marketing management), but also to learn in all areas, from the Classics to Theology to Investments and History.  They are filled with ideas of how to run a group project, give a presentation, promote an event, lead a Bible Study, analyze a thesis, write a paper, manage their time, be a servant leader, teach a class, organize a large group event, and, of course, be resourceful on a budget!  College not only offers opportunities for leadership, but its open doors (to college news, activities, courses, etc.) are avenues to ideas that build leadership confidence and inspire future endeavors.

8.  Homeschooling your own children someday!  — Assuming that home education may be one of your goals for the family you raise someday, note that a college education will offer you a strong foundation.  First, you will be well educated yourself and gain the confidence to inspire your children to learn, as well.  You will draw upon your own education to teach everything from the relevance of math to the practical applications of science.  I have used my college experience in genetics, Spanish, computer science, education, literature, physics, history, political science, geography, nutrition, and countless other areas in my role as home educator and teacher of other homeschooled students.  Second, you will have the security of a bachelor’s degree should the state regulations or standardized testing requirements become more stringent for home educators.  We have enjoyed a degree of liberty so far, but we do not have guarantees for the future.  Third, it has been a huge boost to the homeschooling movement that we can tell skeptics how many of us have college degrees.  Our own higher education boosts our credibility as we claim to be educators.  We garner support for our cause when our neighbors and business colleagues admire our own commitment to education; they begin to understand that we want to impart something valuable to our children, and not merely keep them from ideology with which we disagree in the school system.   Fourth, a well educated person may find more opportunities for flexible, creative income if extra income is needed to support the stay-at-home, home education commitment.  Any skill may afford that flexibility (teaching music, sewing, etc.), but since there is more demand for skilled and educated workers, one without the skills or education is at the mercy of a retail work schedule, for example, lower wages, or long hours.  Someone skilled or trained or educated can possibly teach part-time, work from home, start a business, etc. since their abilities are in more demand.

Regardless of whether your SAT scores or budget/scholarships will enable you to attend/afford college, you will need to become an educated:  citizen, Kingdom worker, and possibly parent.  You will need to embrace education (if even self-education) and personal growth, gain valuable skills, and seek to be the best you can be for God’s glory.

Don’t shortchange yourself by thinking you are not capable.  Don’t take shortcuts by thinking that you will not be accountable to anyone but yourself.  Don’t assume you can slide by without personal challenge by thinking that your life will be easy as long as you avoid the rigors of academics.  Young adulthood is the best time to take on challenges and grow your skills.  After visiting some colleges and doing the research you decide that you will not be able to seek a degree, you can still set your sights high in other ways so that you grow and develop into a person with healthy self-respect, appreciation for learning, and practical ways to contribute to society and  your church community.

But if you score well on standardized tests and daily work, don’t be too quick to write off college.  Make an informed decision, not one based on feelings.  Visit some schools (most people find that very inspiring!), preferably connecting with someone you know on campus, getting a tour, visiting a class or two, and if possible, staying overnight in the dorms (especially speaking of a Christian college with more stringent standards for dorm living).  Talk to students about their college experience; talk to people in your field of interest to learn about the educational path most likely to help you get a job in that career;  talk to your parents about your options and research as much as possible.

BE a good servant of the Master :  one who does not bury his talents or opts out of the hard work, but instead invests them for the Master’s glory!