Research shows that students gain as much from their interactions outside the classroom as they do from their interactions inside the classroom. As a result, the decision whether to attend a Christian or secular college is an important one. While there exists a continuum on which both Christian or secular college falls upon, below are some basic differences in their perspectives and approaches.
The purpose of Christian education is to equip students to serve God and spread the Gospel.
For the most part, students have grown up in a Christian home and are committed to living out Christian values and deepening their understanding of their Christian faith.
Faculty have likely chosen to teach at a Christian institution because they have a strong belief in their Christian values and worldview and are committed to connecting their academic subject material to their Christian faith.
The mission of the university is to prepare students to serve God through their profession, church, and family.
The Purpose of education is to prepare students for a humanisitic society that tolerates all lifestyles and perspectives.
Fellow students come from a variety of religious backgrounds and faiths. Some are agnostic or atheist. They may hold a variety of different worldviews.
Professors are committed to teaching their subject matter and are less inclined to share their religious views in class. All faculty have the academic freedom to be able to select the academic texts and material they believe is most valuable, which may or may not include Christian perspectives and values.
The mission of the institution is to prepare students to contribute to society as professionals and citizens.
In researching the differences between Christian and secular college experiences, I decided to ask two recent graduates to share their perspective. Noemi Bermudez graduated last month from a secular university. Brice Williams graduated last year from a Christian university.
Community of believers
When asked why he chose a Christian university, Williams replied, “As an older undergraduate student (freshman at 22), I realized that every institution has a worldview, a set of principled truths they believe about God, humanity, and the world in which they live. While having a healthy understanding of differing points of view, it was important for me as a young Christian to immerse myself in a community of other followers of Christ.” Williams met his wife Leona in college, and they have worked in ministry together.
When I asked Bermudez why she chose a secular university, she said, “I did not even consider attending a Christian university —at the time, there was a separation in my mind between academics and spiritual life. I was raised in a Christian family, and I was a leader in First Priority during high school. During my junior year in high school, I decided that I was going to be a biology major in college to pursue a career in medicine. I had heard that statistically many Biology majors become atheists, and I was warned by church leaders. I completely rejected the possibility of me denying Christ in college because of a biology education, and I joined, and eventually served as president, of one of the Christian organizations on campus.”
Bermudez later noted, that “she has “a personal relationship with God and didn’t fear the influence from atheist professors. “I actually had a desire to learn from professors with different views because I wanted to understand the other side,” she said. “I wanted to be challenged.”
Relating to peers
Williams and Bermudez both shared the impact of their faculty and peers on their experience. Regarding her interactions with peers, Bermudez said, “I have had many conversations about faith with students who have different beliefs. Often, their minds became opened to learning about Christianity, and I learned about their beliefs. Attending a secular university has helped me learn how to communicate with people with different beliefs.” She concluded by saying, “My desire to spread the gospel has escalated because I have witnessed how knowledge, money, and worldly pleasures do not satisfy. I have gained a desire to learn more about scripture, theology, and apologetics, so that I can respond adequately to inquiries about my faith.”
Williams noted the impact of his faculty on his development. He said, “Some of the best relationships I’ve cultivated from my time in college were oddly with faculty. My faculty advisor was so close to my wife and I that we asked him to officiate our wedding. Knowing that my college years were formative, I look back and am thankful for the quality of time spent with older men and women I admire.”
While both of these students have benefitted greatly from their experiences, there are always potential pitfalls for any student. Those attending Christian schools sometimes report limited course offerings while many students at secular universities (and, to a lesser degree, Christian universities) fall away from their faith while in college. Research shows that approximately 70% of students move away from their faith during their college years. At same time, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) found that 4 out of 5 students report that religion or spirituality is an important part of their lives. Colleges and universities must consider how they are meeting the religious and spiritual needs of their students, and students need to request intentional services, conversations and resources for developing and exploring their religious and spiritual interests and identities.
Currently, both Noemi and Brice are pursuing graduate degrees in Christian studies. Brice Williams is in the Ockenga Fellows Program at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Noemi Bermudez is pursuing a Masters of Arts in Christian Studies at Duke University and expects to begin medical school in 2015. Both students grew in their faith during college because they were purposeful. Whether you chose a Christian university or a secular university, I encourage you to prayerfully and intentionally pursue opportunities and relationships that cultivate, challenge, and strengthen your relationship with God and serve him.
Terry Morrow Nelson is an Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Professor. She is the President of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation and a Certified Christian Conciliator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.