The Unique Mission of Christian Higher Education

Sometimes I find it helpful to remind myself of the mission, the quest to which I have been called in Christian higher education.

There was a time when most residential undergraduate colleges could survive, even thrive, by promising one or more of the following:

prestige or social capital;

a diploma, promise of a good job, and future opportunities;

preparation of what some refer to as “the good life”;

a rite of passage to adulthood; and

a chance to make new friends and maybe even meet a future spouse.

The most selective colleges have large endowments and far more applicants than will be admitted. The promise of prestige and social capital alone is enough to keep most of these schools going, even when they fail to deliver on the other promises. Many flourished in the first half of the 20th century when only 13% of high school graduates attended college. They continued to thrive as the number of college options increased. Such selective schools will prosper in the decades ahead, despite the forthcoming demographic drop of high school graduates along with a growing number of people seeking college alternatives. Some of these schools would persist even if they stopped offering college diplomas.

What about the other colleges? The promises above will not be enough. As for me, I’m voting for and investing in the future and flourishing of colleges that:

Fully embody a clear, inspiring, hopeful, and uncompromising identity and mission—one that is sought after by one or more distinct segments of future students;

Allow the mission to run rampant, leaving no person, practice, or policy untouched by its daringly delightful demands;

Deliver on (not just promise) a truly transformational learning journey;

Provide a stimulating space where the joyful but relentless search for truth, beauty, and goodness is compelling and contagious;

Provide (not just promise) deep, lasting, authentic community where they are sought after, known, valued, cared for, respected, mentored, and provided with lifelong allies in their future quests and callings;

Prove (again, not just promise) that they consistently help each student discover and achieve inspiring and personally meaningful goals;

and that Guide students in discovering, preparing for, and embarking on the call to be a blessing in their families, churches, communities, workplaces, and world.

There is no utopian college capable of achieving all of this with perfection, but these are communities that are worth existing, persisting, and thriving. Creating and sustaining such higher education communities is good, noble, needed, and worthy of our time, resources, and direct engagement. Even if some of the schools in pursuit of such a vision do not survive the challenges of the future, they are communities worthy of our investment, sweat, tears, and valiant effort. I’m honored to serve a community that is on such a quest, and I am both grateful and constantly on the lookout for allies. During those difficult days and weeks, I find it helpful to remind myself that the challenges and contexts may change, but the mission is the same.