PRESIDENT’S POSITION: Choosing to go to a faith-based liberal arts college increses income and self-fulfillment. Photo by Mark Lewandowski
PRESIDENT’S POSITION: Choosing to go to a faith-based liberal arts college increses income and self-fulfillment. Photo by Mark Lewandowski

President Sherilyn Emberton critically discusses the significance of a private, faith-based, liberal arts college education.

Does College Matter?

After several years of media discourse and public debate, most economic indicators still support the position that a college education aligns with higher and more sustainable employment opportunities than a high school credential. In a 2012 study, researchers at Georgetown University identified that from 1989 to 2012, “Employment opportunities for those with at least a four-year college degree increased by 82 percent — compared to 42 percent for a two-year degree.” The study also noted that for that same time period, job prospects fell almost 14 percent for individuals holding only a high schools diploma.

Many commentators have quoted from the 2002 U.S. census report, The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings, that states, “Over an adult’s working life, high school graduates can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree, $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree, $2.5 million.”

Data collected by the Pew Research Center and published in its 2014 report revealed, “Millennial college graduates ages 25 to 32 who are working full time earn more annually—about $17,500 more—than employed young adults holding only a high school diploma. The pay gap was significantly smaller in previous generations. College-educated millennials also are more likely to be employed full time than their less-educated counterparts (89 percent vs. 82 percent) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8 percent vs. 12.2 percent).”

Does Where You Go to College Matter?

For 2015-2016, the College Board lists the average cost of undergraduate tuition at four-year private institutions across the United States as $32,405. On average, full-time undergraduates at private four-year colleges receive an estimated $15,680 in grant aid from all sources and tax benefits. At Huntington University, the tuition price remains in the lower quartile of private institutions ($24, 554 for 16-17), and averages approximately $10, 500 per student in annual institutional aid.

The value of a liberal arts degree, especially when designed and delivered in a private university setting, continues to demonstrate tangible as well as intangible benefits for its graduates. A recent online column for US News and World Report by Kevin Walker credits a 2016 study by the Great Lakes Colleges Association with defining the true worth of studying the liberal arts at a private university, “A liberal arts education is associated with greater odds for students to become leaders, be seen as ethical, appreciate arts and culture and lead a more fulfilling and happy life.”

Is a Faith-Focused College Really a Value-Added?

Perry Glanzer, in his 2012 article, The Missing Factor in Higher Education, concludes that most of the studies that examine the character impact of faith-based colleges report, “Christian colleges, particularly evangelical institutions, demonstrate a marked moral difference in five areas: (1) faculty attitudes (2) Bible, theology, and ethics in the curriculum (3) measured or reported impact on character or moral attitudes (4) students’ moral reasoning (5) alumni views about moral education.”

Arthur Holmes in his 1987 iconic work, The Idea of a Christian College, describes a Christian college’s distinctive as “an education that cultivates the creative and active integration of faith and learning, of faith and culture.”

On a personal note, working in Christian higher education changed the course of my life. The opportunity to pursue avocation through vocation has yielded the greatest blessings. My prayer for students attending Huntington University is that they will find what I have found through my service at faith-based colleges — a love for God, a passion for truth and a fearless commitment to seek both.