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The latest argument for Christian higher education: It’s an economic powerhouse

We’re also less white than you think

When Shirley Hoogstra took over the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the trade association for evangelical Protestant higher education was reeling.

It had forced out an allegedly abusive president and faced a revolt by conservative members after tacitly approving same-sex marriage in rogue members.

Leadership and spiritual concerns have faded in importance, and in an environment where The Case Against Education is ascendant, the survival of the Christian sector seems itself in doubt.

The CCCU released a study Monday seemingly intended to warn lawmakers what the American economy would look like without their members.

Conducted by Econsult Solutions, the study found the CCCU’s 142 members collectively generate more than $60 billion annually in “economic impact.” This figure is defined as the combination of “institutional expenditures on operations and capital investments” ($25.9 billion) and the “additional alumni earning power of CCCU alumni” ($34.6 billion). These members educate 445,000 students and employ 72,000 faculty and staff.

Most salient for tax collectors, the study says CCCU members generate $9.7 billion in federal tax revenue each year. It claims this represents a $20 return for every dollar the feds spend on student financial aid. (The methodology states that 16 members didn’t complete the survey, so the study had to extrapolate their “key inputs.”)

Hoogstra shared the $60 billion figure at an event earlier this month (below). A spokesperson for the CCCU told The College Fix it did a “soft rollout beginning in January” and incorporated select findings into “speeches, events, public appearances” by Hoogstra.

In a press release Monday, CCCU summarized:

At a time when higher education is under heavy scrutiny for its value proposition, the study’s findings are particularly pertinent—not only do Christian institutions profoundly affect the lives of students through their shared commitment to advancing faith and intellect for the common good, they also benefit the national economy and deliver a significant return on investment to the federal government.

Hoogstra claimed in the release that the findings “illuminate a bright future for Christian higher education,” but the fact that CCCU commissioned it suggests the group is feeling insecure.

It’s not obvious to the general public or policymakers what difference a Christian college education makes – it’s certainly not the path to riches and a heftier tax base unless you lead a megachurch – so CCCU has to spell it out using rosy select numbers.

The study portrays the average student at a CCCU institution as painfully sympathetic: One in three is the first in the family to go to college and half come from families earning less than $50,000 a year.

They are also financially responsible adults, at least those who manage to graduate: The student loan default rate for CCCU graduates is nearly half the national average.

The rainbow on the college brochure is also closer to matching the reality on the ground: The black student population has roughly doubled (10.5 percent) since 1999, Hispanics have nearly tripled (9.6 percent), and Asians quadrupled (3 percent). Whites are down to two-thirds of CCCU students, from more than 80 percent in 1999.

There’s no way around the statistic that CCCU graduates earn less than the national median, so the study highlights the fields where these graduates are overrepresented, delivering “social benefits” if not big earnings: 12.7 percent work in “human services” (counseling, mental health, family, and community services) compared to about 4 percent for all four-year institutions. Slightly more from CCCU institutions (14.3 percent) than all four-years (13.6 percent) work in education.

One trend left unstated in the report seems clear: CCCU’s ranks will continue to slip as it tries to balance the social liberalism of some members with the strident biblical orthodoxy of others.

Read the report and executive summary.

MORE: Paying for prayer and community at Christian colleges

IMAGE: Andrei Korzhyts/Shutterstock

 

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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