What Christian Colleges Are Growing? Which Ones are Declining?
And, how have they changed their cost of attendance?
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I went to Greenville College, which is actually called Greenville University now. That’s really annoying, by the way, because when I tell people the name of the school I don’t know which one I should mention. I went there because it was close to where I grew up. I know that’s a stupid reason. I was a first generation college student, so I didn’t have a whole lot of guidance in this process. In fact, looking back on it, I didn’t really apply to any schools that were too far away from my little hometown in Southern Illinois.
I really enjoyed my time at Greenville, to be honest. It was exactly what I wanted in a college experience. A small school that was primarily residential. Religion was a key part of the environment there. I attended chapel three times a week (sometimes more with Thursday night Vespers). And while the prohibitions against drinking, sexual behavior, and swearing were annoying, I think that they gave me enough guard rails at a key point in my life to keep me focused on the task at hand - going to class.
Greenville is part of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Of course I didn’t know that at the time, but it’s an organization that I have become aware of as I continue to do work in the space of American religion. It’s really the most important player in the world of Christian higher education. All of the most prominent evangelical schools are members of the CCCU - Wheaton, Calvin, Baylor, etc.
I think about the state of higher education fairly often because that’s where I work. I typically glance at enrollment trends that are reported in a variety of outlets because I guess at the end of the day I’m never 100% convinced that EIU is going to exist in 20 years. I know that’s a very unlikely occurrence, but when you hear so many stories of doom and gloom about higher ed enrollments, it plants a seed of doubt.
One thing that I know for certain - smaller schools are in a much more precarious situation than state institutions. That’s especially the case for smaller schools that don’t have huge endowments that they can tap in to when enrollment dips unexpectedly. Guess what types of schools I am describing right now? Yeah, some members of the CCCU.
So, I wanted to take a look at just two factors today that I think are pretty helpful in understanding the landscape of Christian higher education - price and headcount. The data comes from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which has one of the least user friendly websites ever for this type of thing, by the way. This post almost went into the trash can at multiple points when I couldn’t sort out how to get the spreadsheet that I wanted from their data portal. If this one gets a good reaction, I may try to drudge up some more interesting statistics about the CCCU, but let’s just start with this.
I managed to pull information about 113 schools in the CCCU. That’s not all of them. They report about 140 total members, but some are not based in the United States so IPEDS doesn’t track them. So this list is most of the CCCU, but not all of it. Keep that in mind.
Let’s start with the increase in tuition price between 2002 and 2022 (that’s the biggest spread I could find on IPEDS). This includes the cost for students who are in-state and are living on campus. So, the most classical sense of the cost of higher education. The average increase in this cost across all the schools in the CCCU was 117.5%. As a comparison, U.S. News and World Report says that since 2004 the cost of tuition/fees has risen 132% at private universities and 158% at public universities. So, CCCU schools are actually holding the line a bit more than other schools.
Here are the schools that reported the highest total increase in cost between 2002 and 2022. The largest increase in cost was at Northwestern College, which is located in Orange City, Iowa. It’s up nearly 250% since 2002. The only other school that had more than doubled the cost was Oklahoma Baptist University, a Southern Baptist college located in Shawnee. There are a bunch clustered around the 150% range.
There’s no really consistent pattern I am seeing in this data. Lots of Baptist schools, but that’s probably due to the fact that there are just lots of Baptist schools in the CCCU. But there are schools from basically every region in the data, too. It’s pretty crucial to point out that these schools aren’t that much higher than the overall average, though. For instance, Kuyper College’s cost has risen 136%, that’s only about 20 percentage points higher than the overall mean.
Which schools have raised their costs the least? That’s below.