FAITH + IDEAS =: last updated 12/03/2009

When Faith Leaves The Campus: A College Dilemma

December 2, 2009                                           Volume 2 Issue 19
 . . . an e-conversation with the Faculty of Gordon College . . .

By Bob Whittet
Last week’s Time magazine cover story on “Helicopter Parents” reminded a generation of parents that kids don’t come with how–to manuals and what we’ve been doing is a lot of hovering over their decisions. But I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.
For instance, my whole world changed when our first child was born. The doctor handed the newborn to us and we—like most parents I know—were overcome by a simultaneous sense of wonder and responsibility. We’ve been blessed with subsequent babies in our family, each preceded by the question of how we’d be able to love the next child as much as the first. But we learned that children bring with them a new math. Each child somehow gets all of our love, and one hundred percent can be multiplied.
Even so, it can feel as if children are given to parents as wet cement and it’s on our shoulders to maneuver them into a finished product. Each year the cement settles a little more, the kids become less moldable and parents frantically try to make good decisions—before the cement dries entirely. Choices become more serious with the years, and most good parents do hover, at least a little, trying hard to instill good decision-making skills in the process.  
So when the time comes to make one of the most important choices of a young person’s life—college—parents can be forgiven for hovering. The pressure can feel as intense as laying real cement and just as grueling. Having already scoured their way through school research, chosen districts with good programs, and paid the taxes that none of us like to pay, parents come to the college dilemma equipped to consider the pros and cons of an education. They can appreciate how leaders spend their money as long as their child benefits. Consequently, they can help move their sons and daughters in the right direction, while at the same time admitting that the college decision ultimately is not theirs alone.
A number of points about higher education are usually considered, most of them obvious: cost, location, academic reputation. But what even the most hovering parents don’t always consider is how a college might—or might not—reinforce the basic groundwork they laid throughout their child’s life so far.
The results of a recent study on moral choices among high school students affirm this. Dr. Cheryl Crawford, a theologian and counselor in southern California and author of the study, surveyed Christian, church-attending high school students in New England and found that the overwhelming majority struggled with poor moral choices when they attended large public universities. Many of the young people chose the state college for lower financial costs but what they found cost them in other ways; though they had grown up in families with deep Christian faith, these students surprised themselves by the poor moral choices they made on campus, choices that would not have been what their parents had in mind when they dropped them off for orientation.
In other words, Crawford’s study suggests that if a child grows up in a home centered on faith, he is more likely to succeed and to build on his foundation if his higher education experience reinforces that. Even with so much news lately about stimulus packages for community colleges or state universities, there are some things no amount of financial aid—federal or state—can secure. An investment in a faith-based liberal arts education can reaffirm the value—and values—of an education that most parents work long and hard to mold in their children. The college years are formative for much of life, shaping not only what a person knows, but also who he is.
Parents who have been hovering over their children as they’ve grown, wanting nothing but the best for them, would do well to see a faith-based college education as an investment that prepares students to compete in the market place, while it prepares their hearts to be people who change the world. My own children thankfully chose one such college. Now I’m watching them forge careers where they are making a lasting difference. And that’s something every parent dreamed back in the delivery room.
Bob Whittet is associate professor of Christian ministries at Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and a regular speaker at youth and parenting conferences. He and his family live in Rye, New Hampshire.


Bob Whittet