the shape of leadership

Christians and Non-Christians Agree: College Is about Getting a Job

Barna finds few differences in attitudes regarding higher education

Influence Magazine on July 28, 2017

As students prepare to head to college for fall classes, a new study from Barna Group suggests there is little difference between Christian and non-Christian views regarding the purpose of higher education.

Despite the abundance of Christian learning institutions and campus ministries in the U.S., American Christian adults, including evangelicals, are no more likely than the religiously unaffiliated — or religious “nones” — to list spiritual growth as one of the reasons for going to college (9 percent). And evangelicals are less likely than both religious “nones” and the general population to include moral character development among the reasons for seeking a postsecondary education (10 percent vs. roughly 14 percent).

U.S. adults generally agree that college is for preparing for a specific job or career — a view shared by 69 percent of all adults; 64 percent of “nones”; 75 percent of practicing Christians; and 67 percent of evangelicals.

Evangelicals point to increased financial opportunities as the main justification for pursuing a degree.

Career prep is the most popular rationale for college among all groups except evangelicals, who point to increased financial opportunities as the main justification for pursuing a degree (69 percent of evangelicals vs. 55 percent of the general population and 49 percent of “nones”).

“Analysts were most surprised that evangelicals express a strong preference for greater financial opportunities — especially compared to those with no faith (49%) — given their generally high biblical literacy and the Bible’s warnings about seeking after wealth,” the report says. “It would be difficult to overstate the noteworthiness of these findings.”

Among the other popular reasons for college attendance are strengthening critical thinking and writing skills, growing in leadership skills, discovering who you are, and learning about academic interests. Again, few significant differences emerged between evangelicals and other groups.

“While other factors — theological beliefs, church attendance, frequency of Bible reading, perspectives on sexuality and marriage and so on — consistently distinguish evangelicals from the general population, the differences when it comes to the purpose of college are negligible, nonexistent or counterintuitive,” the report concludes.

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