Facing the Challenges of College Today
Two much-loved young family members just left for college. These two special young women are among the 2.6 million freshmen who arrived at the 4,352 colleges and universities across America in the past couple of weeks. These young adolescents on the cusp of adulthood and their families are investing in a $440 billion industry that, according to John Dewey, is supposed to prepare them to become good citizens. Both of the family freshmen are recipients of athletic scholarships: one to a Christian and the other to a state university. They will have very different experiences, but they will face similar challenges and have similar opportunities.
Sadly, there is cause for concern that colleges and universities today are not fulfilling their central purpose of preparing young people to become good and productive citizens -- which means an education grounded in moral and intellectual training, which will provide the needed foundation for individual and civic responsibility. Today, however, more and more opinion leaders are questioning the value of higher education in light of the skyrocketing costs and decreasing academic rigor. In addition, questions about today's campus climate of binge drinking, rowdy behavior, cheating, and promiscuity are equally concerning.
Our experience so far with one of our bright young freshmen has already acquainted us with some of the risky aspects of higher education gone awry. One state university president assured the class of 2015 that "mutual respect" in "intimate relationships" will prevent "sexual assault," as though no thought need be given to learning to be a good judge of character in order to stay clear of those who recognize no higher authority beyond their own animal desires. The dean of students affirmed that "regardless of the law," the university would teach the students "to drink safely." The residence hall assistants added that students were "not to worry" about alcohol poisoning, because the ambulance ride is free and parents would not be notified. This politically correct rhetoric is just a sampling of what passes for advice on campus life that is given to today's young people as they begin their college careers.
Many people question whether higher education elites understand traditional morality enough to even speak the same language as parents on the basic moral challenges that students face on today's college campuses. Thus, as a Jewish rabbi put it, "The modern university is not a citadel of ideas, but a laboratory of social and sexual experimentation, a moral cesspool in which traditional values are mocked and traditional people are ill-at-ease." The result is "the constant lowering of the moral bar to appeal to people's baser and more tawdry instincts, and the popular 'rating' of universities for their partying and drinking." Rabbi Pruzansky quoted a football coach who "sort of" explained, "I don't know that those not inclined to understand will ever understand."
College counselors tell us that the physical risks pale in comparison to the psychological and emotional risks. Over the past 10 years, college counselors have seen their case loads expand dramatically -- depression cases have doubled, suicide attempts have tripled, and sexual assaults have quadrupled. National Public Radio (NPR) reported on recent national surveys of campus therapists who say they have more students than ever seeking psychiatric help, with some estimates as high as 18 million students dealing with mental health issues. One Christian college campus that ranked in the top 50 universities in the nation in terms of student safety reported "only" 10 "forced rapes" on campus last year.
A survey of students at Catholic colleges and universities revealed what they called "frightening" results: one in five students knows someone who has had an abortion or paid for one, 45 percent of the men viewed pornography regularly, and 46 percent had engaged in premarital sex while at the Catholic college. Even more alarming, the majority of the students did not believe that being at a Catholic college strengthened their ties to the church or Christian teaching.
In short, even at religious institutions of higher education, students are not exposed to a curriculum that conveys the relevance for daily life of God's moral law and the "unity of truth," as a result, their values are distorted and there is a noticeable and detrimental decline in moral behavior. The other side of the coin is much brighter. Campuses now have a proliferation of religious groups -- many of them solidly Biblical -- that fill in the gap of moral and spiritual education. Our state university freshman coed found a sizeable number of her fellow athletic team members at an event sponsored by an evangelical Christian group; another evangelical Christian event was standing room only. At the Christian university, the three-times-a-week chapel services provide top-notch Christian speakers, and student-run Bible studies are held in all the residence halls.
To paraphrase the Scripture's maxim: if parents raise up a child in the way that he/she should go, when they get to college -- with lots of prayers from family and loved ones -- they will choose the multiple on-campus opportunities that will help keep them "within the fold," and the good influences and the like-minded friendships there will keep them grounded and help them build on the solid foundation that was laid when they were children.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is Director and Senior Fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America.