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    Investing in Their Faith

    How your teen's college choice can impact their future

    Steve Henderson

    NOTE: Steve Henderson is president of Christian Consulting for Colleges and Ministries, Inc. He has a doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration with an emphasis on marketing from the University of Arkansas. This article focuses on his studies on the relationship between college affiliation and religious commitment in conjunction with the Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

    As I speak around the country about the advantages of Christian colleges, it is common for people to approach me afterwards with a story to tell. Typically it's a mom who tells me about the pain her family has had to endure because of a child who went off to a secular college and was drawn into a lifestyle marked by drug abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity, or, in some cases, more than one of the above.

    Sometimes, she will say something like,"He's doing better now, but he's still not back to us."Other times, the assessment is worse, as families contend with the pain that results from a child who is lost in the spiritual desert of secular academia.

    Oftentimes, parents want to send their child to a Christian school but feel they cannot afford it. For people who are dedicated to recruiting young people for Christian colleges and universities, the words "We just can't afford a Christian college" are a source of great frustration.

    It's true that, in spite of the persistent efforts of Christian colleges to be as affordable as possible without compromising quality, attending a Christian college most often requires higher out- of-pocket costs than do other institutions, especially public institutions. However,my response to the concern is to ask, "Is the lower price tag worth the potential cost?"

    Unfortunately, I know something about cost, as some of the pain lingers from seeing one of my own children self-destruct. I remember how proud I was to see my dynamic, scholarship winning, powerfully Christian daughter move in as a freshman at a well-respected public institution. I can also recall the shock and grief that came not long after when I began to learn that drugs and alcohol had become so much a part of her lifestyle that they were putting her and some of her friends in grave danger.

    I witnessed the choices she was making bring over a decade of grief to her and to our family. The emotional pain my wife suffered was at times unbearable to watch. Thankfully, after many years of prayer, counsel, and encouragement,my daughter is being restored. In fact, she is now an incredible and successful woman. She gave me permission to cite her story with the hope of helping other families avoid the pain that we experienced.

    In retrospect, I can see that, in making the decision about where our daughter would go to school, I focused mainly on the logical—the approach of the head— while my wife was influenced more by the heart—by feelings and emotions. I've seen this same dynamic in many families, and usually it's the father who takes the head approach. I could have helped my family avoid a lot of pain if I'd listened a bit more to my heart.

    The decision process can be especially difficult for wives of unsaved husbands. Protecting the faith of a child may not make sense to an unsaved spouse. I encourage Christian parents who find themselves in this position to present the facts carefully and to emphasize that going the secular route puts at great risk the lifestyle the family has encouraged through years.

    As for me, the painful memories have inspired me to dedicate much of my life to studying the impact of college choice on religious commitment (adherence to incoming religious preference and participation in expression and practice of that faith). It is not my intention to "scare" anyone into making the choice for a Christian school.Neither do I contend that a Christian college or university is always the best choice for a family, as each situation is unique, as is every child and every parent.


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