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Written by:  Robin Whitsell
Date: March 1, 2008

Surprisingly, many of the most famous and currently secular U.S. universities were founded as religious schools. Harvard? Yes. Princeton? Right. Yale? You bet. Though these schools are no longer as closely tied to their religious roots, there are many universities that fill this niche for students looking for schools with a religious tradition.

College admissions experts think that, in addition to size, location and cost, students should also consider religious affiliation as another factor in their college decision process.

How do religiously affiliated schools differ from their secular counterparts?

Each religiously affiliated school is founded on a specific faith premise and will have varying degrees of connection to that founding ideology. According to Dr. John L. Lindsey, Academic Dean of John Wesley College, “The closeness of the connection to its parent group can be reflected in different ways on campus. Some schools still have mandatory chapel services but most only provide chapel on an elective basis.

In some ways, the best indicator of a school’s commitment to the values of its ‘founding’ group will be seen in its mission statement.” Often, the values of the school will be revealed in the materials that it distributes. For secular schools, spiritual components will not be at the forefront. For religious schools, the faith-based offerings will be discussed as part of the values and educational experience that the college offers.

In addition, there is often a practical connection between a school and its affiliated church. Decisions about hiring practices, school policies and funding may come from an organization run by the founding faith tradition.

According to Margaret Allen, Director of Marketing and Communication at Lenoir-Rhyne College, “[Our school] is the college of the N.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This means that the statewide synod (statewide governing body) approves appointments to our Board of Trustees and also appoints its own members to our board. The synod also provides financial support to the college.”

How might daily life of a religiously affiliated school be different?

Affiliated schools will traditionally offer worship services, often daily, and have a greater number of faculty that embrace the faith of the founding church. Frequently, there is no difference in the coursework offered at a religiously affiliated school and that of a secular one, but this may depend on a specific course of study.

In some cases, there may be classes that are offered that may not be found on a non-religious campus. Dr. Lindsey explains, “Some of the major Catholic universities are the main bastions for the study of medical ethics, simply because ethics is still a ‘huge’ deal for those in that tradition.”

In addition, religiously affiliated schools can offer a specialized education for students who feel a calling. “Lenoir-Rhyne also can help a student who wishes to prepare for a Christian vocation,” says Pastor Andrew Weisner, Campus Pastor for Lenoir-Rhyne. “Many alumni are pastors, church music directors or church youth leaders. Lenoir-Rhyne can assist students who feel called to these and related careers.”

How can a family assess if a religiously affiliated school is a better match for their student?

Students should explore how they want to define themselves as they move forward in their education. According to Pastor Weisner, “We believe that exploring one’s belief system is an important part of maturing as an adult. As a college of the church, we recognize and take seriously the importance of spiritual development of all people. If a student becomes involved in the opportunities offered for faith and religious development, the student will develop a greater appreciation of his or her own faith.”

And growth is really the purpose of any pursuit of higher education. Adds Dr. Lindsey, “I love working at an interdenominational school. We have students from a wide background, but, because we have a very narrowly defined mission, our students all have the same focus and goals.”

Being at a school with a faith tradition does not need to limit the career course of students. “We have students who go on to work in their communities for the police or the fire departments. We also have students who work in the health and education professions,” Lindsey says. “In every case, the focus of their profession was already evident, and they came here because they wanted the additional focus upon God’s enduring word and its relevance to today’s age.”


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