What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: April 19, 2007
Any number of parents are exploring college options at this time of year with their soon-to-be-graduating sons and daughters. I have had several conversations with some of those parents over the past couple of months, and it is fascinating to hear about the issues that parents are considering when helping their youngsters select a college.
Finances are obviously a huge concern. College tuitions have risen well beyond what most of us might have thought possible only a generation ago. The cost of a four-year college can easily top $120,000. For most families, especially those with several children, helping their youngsters consider a college involves balancing finances with desires and dreams.
Once the issue of finances is concluded, then there are other concerns: ranking of the college in specific areas of academics, student body size, intellectual status of the faculty, distance from home, sports and activities options, campus life, residence choices, and eventually religious affiliation and campus ministry opportunities.
I place the religious affiliation and campus ministry opportunities last because all too often that is where they rank in selecting a college. That statement does not call into question the faith of any of our families, students or parents; it simply acknowledges how college decisions are arrived at in most cases. For many colleges themselves, their religious identity and spiritual programs rank among the last of their concerns as well.
As we all know, some of the most prestigious and widely recognized universities, both here and abroad, were established by religious institutions. Many of us would be hard pressed to identify the religious heritage of most of the Ivy League universities because for many of them they have long ago shed that heritage—perhaps not in a formal or belligerent fashion, but de facto. Even some of our Catholic universities struggle to retain their Catholic identity as important as some of the other higher educational categories that dominate the concerns of university administrators, faculty, students and parents alike.
Dr. Jerry Ashcroft and I spoke last week about the challenge of keeping Catholic higher education an important consideration for the young people of our Archdiocese. Obviously, he assured me that the Catholic identity of Southern Catholic College was a primary concern for him, for the board of trustees and for the generous people who are helping this fledgling university develop a first-class academic and college program.
Selecting a college is a huge decision for every young person fortunate enough to have the opportunity for higher education. They must balance a host of issues in making a selection. Their parents are deeply invested in their future happiness and success and will lend them the support and assistance that they need in choosing a college.
As parents and students balance the many concerns that they must weigh, I hope that the religious environment of the college plays some importance. Often the university campus is not merely secular or non-sectarian so much as it can be hostile to or censorious of religious belief and faith. And during those impressionable young adult years, one’s faith ought not to be seen as an obstruction but as an aid in judging the world and its wonders. This conviction, in fact, is at the heart of Pope Benedict’s insistence on the innate relationship between faith and reason. They are not at odds with each other. In fact, they both function best when they are in dialogue.