[Editor’s Note: Dr. Charles Quarles is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern, author of numerous scholarly and popular level books on the NT, and a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas. He is also an experienced pastor, missionary, and theological educator, and so an able guide on the topic of Christian education. The following is part 1 of two parts on the true value of Christian education.]
I once overheard a money-savvy parent advise some other Christian parents about how to select a college for their children. He offered what sounded like some very practical advice: “Before you invest in education, first calculate the effect of the education on future potential earnings. An expensive education doesn’t make sense if the education cannot eventually lead to a significantly higher income.” He went on to give an example:
It makes sense to go to a private Christian college to prepare for some fields since this can give you a competitive edge for getting into certain grad schools and can offer graduates greater opportunity for success. But a public school teacher, for example, makes the same salary no matter where she earned her degree. If you plan on becoming a teacher, don’t waste your money on a degree at a private college. Go to a less expensive public institution.
Certainly it is wise to value-shop when searching for a college. I would argue, however, that the value of a Christian education often greatly exceeds the mere potential for higher salaries and faster promotions. I also fear that a less expensive education at a secular institution may cost far more than is evident from a slick, polished recruiting brochure. Researcher Steve Henderson discovered that 52 percent of the students at non-Christian colleges who identify themselves as “born-again Christians” during their freshman year will no longer identify themselves as born-again four years later or will not have attended a religious service in more than a year. Those are frightening odds.
Let me hasten to say that I attended a public university and I graduated among that 48 percent who persevered in their faith. My faith took some hard hits in the university classrooms. However, my faith was strengthened as I carefully investigated the attacks of my professors on my Christian faith and discovered the many fallacies and inaccuracies of their assaults as well as the compelling evidence for the crucial claims of Christianity. Sadly, some of my friends and classmates did not fare so well. The question that churches and parents must ask is whether they are willing to gamble with those 52-48 odds.
Imagine an airline that slashed ticket costs for passengers who were willing to fly on old and poorly maintained aircraft. Passengers could purchase a ticket for 52% of the normal fee. The catch was that the planes had a 52% chance of crashing. I seriously doubt that you would have to wait in long lines at that ticket counter. Does it make sense to purchase a discounted education at such a great risk that students may discount the Christian faith?
I recently saw a graduate of a Christian college weep as he thanked his parents for the enormous sacrifices that they had made in order to enable him to attend that school. I could not help but wonder if these painful financial sacrifices had spared them even more heart-wrenching spiritual and emotional sacrifices such as hearing their son renounce his faith or watching him embrace a sinful and self-destructive lifestyle. Jesus asked “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” This question must be kept in mind as we weigh the value of a Christian education.
When you shop for a college, shop for a real value. But make sure that you consider all the costs and advantages, both financial and spiritual, of a particular school. Remember to consider not only what the education will do for the student, but also what the education will do to the student. Remember that smart shopping is not just a matter of dollars and cents, but also a matter of souls, minds, and the kingdom of our Lord.
The College at Southeastern seeks to provide the sort of high-quality Christian education about which Dr. Quarles writes. For more info on the programs, faculty, and tuition costs for The College, check out the website and/or contact admissions.
 Steve Henderson, “A Question of Price Versus Cost,” Christianity Today (March 2006).