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Why Go To College?

AUGUST 4, 2017

Why go to college?  In partnership with the Association for Biblical Higher Education, the Barna Group asked U. S. adults about their beliefs on the primary purposes of a college education. 

The top ten reasons to go to college were as follows: 

1. Prepare for a specific job career
2. Increase financial opportunities
3.Stay competitive in today's job market
4. Strengthen critical thinking/writing skills
5. Grow in leadership skills
6. Discover who you are
7. Learn about academic interests
8. learn how to make a difference in the world
9. Develop moral character
10.Encourage spiritual growth

While the responses may not come as a surprise, the percentages are quite revealing.  Seventy percent of adults 18 and older believe it is "to prepare for a specific job career" and just over half (55 percent) say it is "to increase financial opportunities."  Almost half (48 percent) think it is "to stay competitive in today's job market."  Now compare the top three choices with the bottom three options:  "to learn how to make a difference in the world" (22 percent), "to develop moral character" (14 percent), and "to encourage spiritual growth" (7 percent).  Falling somewhere in between are personal growth and practical skills:  "to strengthen critical thinking/writing skills" (36 percent), "to grow in leadership skills" (30 percent), "to discover who you are" (27 percent), and "to learn about academic interests" (22 percent).

Self-identified Christians agree with the general population that college is  primarily about preparing for a specific job or career, increasing financial opportunities, and staying competitive in today's job market.  Perhaps most unsettling, is Christians overall disconnect of higher education with spiritual and moral development.  Only 7 percent of self-identified Christians said college is for encouraging spiritual growth and just 14 percent for developing moral character, the same as those with no faith.  The differences between the general population and self-identified Christians are less significant than might be expected.

Those invested in biblical higher education should pay close attention, because student recruitment efforts  must take into account the college-to-career assumption--not necessarily to share or capitulate to the assumption, but certainly to bear it in mind as a factor that strongly influences prospective students' college choice.

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant

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