Secular Colleges Present Faith Challenges, Opportunities

Parents eventually come to a point that many fear the most – their children leaving the nest for an independent and sometimes radical college life. And for Christian parents, the question that often arises this time of year is whether to send their kids off to a secular or Christian higher education institution.

Today, more students are applying for college admission than ever, according to recent reports. Columbia University in New York City received an overwhelming number of 19,800 applications this year, more than double the number received 12 years ago. Particularly, the most prestigious colleges have had intense admissions competition.

Before all the life-changing decisions are made, however, preparation for college life is key.

"It's not an easy road for a Christian young person in college in this day and age," said best-selling writer Bill Myers on Focus on the Family's radio broadcast.

As Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, put it, college is a very different place now than it was when he had attended, now with more dangers on campus for the Christian student.

Former tennis pro David Wheaton names three "pillars of peril" in his book University of Destruction - Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus - sex, drugs/alcohol, and humanism (secular or religious). He called the secular college campus "the most radical aspect of society" on the radio segment Tuesday.

As much as half of the Christian population who enter college lost their faith after four years at the institution, studies have shown. The same or even higher numbers of students straying from their faith apply to some Christian colleges as well, Wheaton pointed out.

Noah Riner, the Dartmouth College student body president who stirred up a wave of controversy over his convocation speech to the class of 2009, said students must be prepared not only to face the challenges against the Christian faith but also to be a missionary on campus.

There are two options for Christians on campuses, Riner said during Focus on Radio. Seclude yourself in a Christian bubble or be camouflaged into the culture where you can't discern who's a Christian and who's not.

In his speech this past fall, which landed him in newspapers and talk shows, Riner referenced Jesus as the best example of character and God's love as the solution for people's imperfections. He lost a few friends and even the student body vice president after making that speech, but he has continued to encourage Christians to engage the culture with their faith.

For a Christian student, there are good reasons to attend a secular college, one of them being the role of witnessing. Wheaton said students with a good "spiritual GPA" (interacts with God well, can choose his Peers well, and is able to utilize his/her Authorities) are ready for any college campus. For students who may be weaker in their Christian faith, Wheaton recommends a Christian campus or even some time off to prepare more before stepping onto a college campus.

Dobson is clear with his choice for his children. "I would choose the Christian school," said the Focus founder.

Myers added, "Some students thrive there (secular colleges) and others completely lose their understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”