Colleges today are doubly problematic for young Christians. Not only do they face the reality that a college degree is rising in cost and decreasing in value, but Christians also have to deal with the godless environment common to modern universities.
The typical university today is a bastion of anti-Christian teaching inside the classroom and immoral behavior outside the classroom. This is especially true for large public and private universities. There are exceptions, often in the case of smaller schools and commuter schools.
Caution for Non-Christian Colleges
But it is not just colleges that are a problem. America’s education system is a mess at every level. I have continually urged parents to look to alternatives to K–12 public schools, due to their anti-Christian worldview and negative influence on children. And these arguments extend largely to university-level education as well.
Of course, there is a level of maturity, spiritually and intellectually, that a Christian may come to where he or she is equipped to handle a secular and even anti-Christian educational environment. The vast majority of Christians do not meet this level of maturity in high school. Some Christians will meet this level of maturity in college, especially those who received a strong Christian education through a private school or homeschooling.
However, even mature Christians should be cautious about attending a non-Christian college. Even the strong can fall, and no one should subject himself to unnecessary temptation—"Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Moreover, if the purpose of attending college is to receive an education, then a student should attend a school where genuine learning will take place.
Christian Colleges are Ideal
Genuine learning can take place at a non-Christian college, but it will depend on the field and students will have to filter the material. The ideal learning environment is therefore a Christian college. Just as with K–12 schooling, the best education involves Christian teachers teaching every subject from a Christian worldview.
While some Christian colleges have top-notch programs in more career-oriented fields (e.g. economics, engineering, business), most Christian colleges aim to excel at the liberal arts. Good Christian colleges usually require some courses in Bible, church history, Western civilization, and literature. Students can then focus on particular fields of study after taking these courses.
Now it should be said up front that this type of education is expensive. The best Christian colleges want maximum freedom and therefore do not take federal money (nor allow students to take federal loans). This type of independence requires the schools to survive off tuition and donations.
It is also the case that for students to benefit from the best courses at Christian colleges, they should probably attend such a school for all four years. This goes against my prior advice on how to save money in obtaining a college degree by attending community college and/or taking CLEP exams.
I do not recommend going into massive debt to attend a Christian college (or any college), unless one has a high probability of attaining a good job after that can pay off the debt. But if you have the money or if your parents are willing to pay for such an education (or you receive a good scholarship), why would you pass up such a great opportunity?
Top Five Colleges for Christian Students
All of this brings us to our list of top colleges for Christian students. This list is not exhaustive, as I am relying on personal knowledge of these schools combined with the ratings of trusted others. Also, notice I did not say “top Christian colleges,” as these schools vary in their religious commitments (though all identify as Christian). These are the top colleges for Christian students.
There are several factors to take into account in making such a list, and much depends on which factors receive the most weight. I value schools that do not take federal money, since this is a good sign of strong religious conviction and commitment to academic freedom (amidst tremendous pressure for colleges to take federal money). Three of these schools take federal money (College of the Ozarks, Wheaton College, Covenant College), but I find them too good to leave off the list.
I also filter these schools for what I consider to be sound theology and worldview, and I want to give preference to the Reformed tradition. However, I am also aware that larger schools are more likely to find respectability among the broader academic world. While I do not think we should pander to secular scholars and institutions, this is important for those seeking to go on to graduate school.
- Grove City College (Grove City, Pennsylvania). This is an independent Christian school loosely associated with the Presbyterian tradition. Grove City provides an excellent liberal arts education, including a top-notch economics department in the Austrian school. However, the college has a wide array of programs. It is rare to find a Christian school in the Reformed tradition that provides excellent education and does not take federal funding. That earns Grove City the number one spot on my list.
- Hillsdale College (Hillsdale, Michigan). This is a top-notch liberal arts school in the conservative tradition, offering a variety of academic programs. Though only identifying itself as a “nonsectarian Christian institution,” Hillsdale teaches from a basic Christian worldview and employs Christian teachers from a variety of backgrounds. It is highly respected in academia and is influential in the political world. Like Grove City, Hillsdale does not take federal funding.
- College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, Missouri). This is a Christian college offering a variety of programs and providing an elite education. This is an intriguing option because the College of the Ozarks does not charge tuition and does not allow loans. Instead, full-time students are required to work 15 hours per week at an on-campus job (and two 40-hour weeks during breaks). Unsurprisingly, it is very hard to get into.
- Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois). This is the most recognized Christian college in the United States. Wheaton is a liberal arts school that has a strong tradition and provides an excellent education. Because of its emphasis on the liberal arts, Wheaton offers fewer areas of study than some of the other schools on this list.
- Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, Georgia). This is the college of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Covenant College is the most explicitly Reformed school on this list. It also boasts the best location on this list, as it is located in the mountains outside Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Other Colleges to Consider
The following schools are still good options but did not make the top five list for one reason or another. None of them takes federal funding. The largest downside for these schools is that they are smaller than the schools above (except for Boyce), meaning they offer fewer areas of study and are less recognizable in academia. However, depending on a student’s goals, these schools should be given strong consideration.
New Saint Andrews College (Moscow, Idaho). This college was founded by Douglas Wilson, Presbyterian pastor and a major figure in the field of Christian education.
Patrick Henry College (Purcellville, Virginia). This college is a non-denominational school dedicated to both classical and Christian education.
Boyce College (Louisville, Kentucky). This college is part of the Southern Baptist Convention and is associated with the conservative and Calvinist wing of the denomination.
Bethlehem College and Seminary (Minneapolis, Minnesota). This college was founded by pastor John Piper and is associated with Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Reformation Bible College (Sanford, Florida). This college was founded by R.C. Sproul and Ligonier ministries. RBC is devoted to the study of the Bible and does not offer other areas of study, but otherwise it is an excellent option.