According to Deana Porterfield, vice president of enrollment management at Azusa Pacific University, Christian families genuinely believe that attending a four-year Christian university offers "a rich environment academically and spiritually." Even though they believe this, however, sometimes it takes an experience at a Christian school to drive that belief home.
Most Christian colleges have stories to tell of young people who came to their school intending to transfer after two years, only to find they just couldn't do it.
Linda Fitzhugh, vice president for enrollment services at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, tells the story of Jason, a student very upfront about his plan to spend two years at LeTourneau before transferring to a less expensive institution. Says Fitzhugh, "Jason's degree was of a technical nature, so he didn't see any benefit to completing four years at a more expensive Christian university."
Jason's mother and grandmother were the biggest influencers in his college decision. In fact, Jason's mother was pursuing her master's degree at the less expensive institution to which Jason planned to transfer.
But, as Fitzhugh says, "Jason started school and realized that, unlike his mom, he actually knew his professors. To him and eventually his family, it was worth the extra expense for Jason to have some of the resources the inexpensive school lacked. He appreciated that his professors actually cared and encouraged him to start the job search soon."
Jason chose to make the necessary sacrifices. He has an on-campus job, lives at home, and doesn't have an iPhone. He packs his lunch instead of buying fast food. But he and his family are content knowing he is doing the right thing.
The Challenge of Fitting In
Students who transfer to a Christian university are faced with the challenge of feeling like a part of their new community. According to Michael Sapienza, director of enrollment management at Bryan College (Dayton, Tennessee), those who transfer in "do not have opportunity to make early connections with their classmates. They have to orient themselves at a time when others already have a year or more of history together."
Says Cedarville's Smith, "Students who spend all four years in one place develop deeper relationships. Students who transfer to another school never assimilate as completely as the students who started together as freshmen and stayed together all four years."
LeTourneau's Fitzhugh notes that freshmen "come in to school with several hundreds (or thousands!) of other freshmen who are all a little 'lost.' Friendships are more easily and naturally forged because everyone is in the same boat."
Asbury College has a unique class-identity program, in which each entering class is given a name, a Bible verse, a hymn, class colors, senior sponsors, and advisers (faculty or staff who remain with them all four years and at alumni reunions). Says Lisa Harper, director of admissions at Asbury, "This identity not only builds relationships and camaraderie, but also lays the foundation for a strong alumni base."
Harper laments, "Students who transfer in miss out on freshmen activities that establish a bond. Those who transfer out miss the junior and senior activities that lay the foundation for alumni events."
Although LeTourneau's Fitzhugh agrees that transfer students are somewhat disadvantaged because "many friendships and groups are already well established," she says the obstacles, at least for students transferring to LeTourneau, are not insurmountable. "A good percentage of college students," says Fitzhugh, "will attend several institutions before they finally walk across a stage to get their diploma."
Fitzhugh is not alone in believing there are ways to accommodate in-transferring students. Many schools intentionally help transfer students feel welcome. Asbury has several programs to make sure of this, including its TAG (Transition and Guidance) program and various other opportunities to meet faculty and students in one's chosen major.