So what's a religious high school senior to do? Staying within the fold of a religiously oriented college is an attractive option for many-enrollment at the 102 schools that comprise the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities grew 70.6 percent between 1990 and 2004. But other college-bound students want to spread their wings socially and intellectually in a more diverse setting. Some of the best colleges and universities in America are secular, from the Ivy League to state schools to small liberal arts campuses. But the temptations on American college campuses--alcohol and drugs, sexual promiscuity, a generally secular philosophy--can be enough to strike terror in the hearts of religious parents who ask fearfully, "Will my child keep the faith in college?"
A spate of new books from Christian publishers aimed at college students indicates that there is indeed something to be afraid of. Abby Nye's book "Fish Out of Water: Surviving and Thriving as a Christian on a Secular Campus" (New Leaf Press) warns that students will "find their faith and values under assault from Day 1." Her book is a Christian survival guide for college students, but parents find that they also have to rely on their faith when their children leave for secular colleges.
For years, Cindy Foster of Montclair, NJ has prayed for her four children's school experiences. So when her oldest, Bethany, now 20, entered the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, it was natural for Foster to continue to turn to prayer. Through the international organization Moms in Touch, a Christian group that organizes local parents to pray for their kids, she meets weekly with other mothers of college students and offers prayers for everything from safety to academic success to personal happiness and spiritual growth.
"I really have had to rely on prayer and release her to the Lord," Foster said of her daughter. Bethany is not actively involved in church groups on campus, but Foster is not concerned. "Even if she's not walking a faith walk, the Lord is working in her life," she said.
Recent studies suggest a growing spiritual hunger among college students. The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute's 2004 study of 112,000 college freshmen, found that 4 out of every 5 students say religion or spirituality is an important element of their lives.
But these are confusing times. Many religious families lament a culture of permissiveness that allows wide latitude on issues moral behavior. Shouldn't religiously committed students retreat to schools overtly affiliated with a particular faith tradition?
Not necessarily. For reasons ranging from the academic to the spiritual, religious college students are heading off to secular campuses with their eyes wide open and their deepest beliefs intact.