While most Christian colleges in the United States have been predominantly white institutions, there is an ongoing movement within Christian higher education to diversify student and faculty bodies to ensure that the diversity in God’s Kingdom is reflected in His schools.
More than eight out of 10 students (82.2 percent) who attended schools affiliated with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities in 1999 were white. But today, the white students on the nearly 140 campuses affiliated with the CCCU in the United States only account for about six out of every 10 students (62.2 percent in 2016).
A difference of two students per every 10 students took much work among CCCU administrators who recognized the lack of diversity was a problem. Those efforts were evident at this year’s CCCU quadrennial International Forum, held Jan. 31–Feb. 2 in Grapevine, Texas.
The forum featured a number of speakers and panel discussions focusing on issues of diversity and inclusion within one of the world’s largest associations of Christian colleges.
“Back [at the 2006 CCCU International Forum] there were very few sessions offered on diversity. In fact, I was part of two of just of three or four sessions that we had. But it was an emerging conversation,” CCCU senior fellow for diversity Pete Menjares said during the conference.
“If you fast forward to … the opening devotional [at the conference], the first plenary [sessions] and throughout the day, there has been this common thread of this need to address the realities of historic barriers, systemic issues and to get Christian higher education to a place where it is more in tune, more in step and in more harmony with God and with one another.”
While enrollment across the CCCU is not as diverse as the national average of all degree-granting secondary education institutions, Menjares assures that those involved in the movement within the CCCU know that “progress” is being made.
Menjares, who is also the director of the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University in California, provided data that shows just how far CCCU has come in terms of recruiting students and faculty from different racial demographics.
While the percentage of white students at CCCU institutions has decreased over 8 percentage points from 2006 to 2016, CCCU has experienced significant growth among African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American students.
In keeping with the trend being experienced in the U.S. population as a whole, the student demographic growing at the fastest rate within the CCCU is Hispanic.
In 2006, just 4.85 percent of CCCU students in the U.S. were Hispanic. But in 2016, the percentage of Hispanic students at U.S.-based CCCU institutions rose to 9.68 percent.
Today, there are at least five CCCU schools that have achieved federal status as a “Hispanic-serving institution.” Among them are California schools like Azusa Pacific University and Menjares’ Vanguard University.
According to Vanguard data, there was almost the same percentage of Hispanic undergraduate students (39.45 percent) as white undergraduate students (39.67 percent) enrolled at Vanguard in 2017.
“The Hispanic community, as well as the African-American community, is hugely spiritually oriented,” Karen Longman, a professor in Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Higher Education who served for 19 years as the CCCU vice president for professional development and research, told The Christian Post. “As campuses diversify, I think that all respective students [of color] will be taking these campuses more seriously as places that can help them grow in their faith while they are also growing intellectually and in their content knowledge.”
As CCCU data shows that African-American students used to comprise just 6.5 percent of CCCU students in 1999, Menjares’ data shows that black students made up 11.37 percent of students at CCCU schools in the U.S. in 2016.
As for Asians students, they comprised 3.88 percent of students at U.S.-based CCCU institutions in 2016, up from 2.83 percent in 2006.
“The ‘Excellence Imperative,’ as I call the CCCU diversity work, has been at the forefront of my presidency,” CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra, who assumed office in September 2014, wrote in the forward of the recently published book, Diversity Matters: Race, Ethnicity, and the Future of Christian Higher Education.
“This ‘imperative’ also distinguishes our mission and positions us to respond to those around us,” Hoogstra continued. “And yet, we are not where we want to be. As we consider how best to serve and equip our students, knowing the challenges we face in our 21st century world for both the Church and academy, we as Christ-followers are called to the hard conversations around issues of culture, privilege, and race. Such discussions are not easy, but they are happening.”
The increasing diversity in the CCCU, Longman says, is reflective of the institution’s commitment to “trying to model God’s Kingdom based on the imagery that is given to us in Revelation of being place where all people come together who are honored and valued for who they are.”
However, the diversity movement is not just a moral imperative, it is also necessary for the survival of Christian higher education, Longman asserted.
As Menjares notes in the book, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. will have a majority-minority population by 2044.
“If these campuses are going to survive and thrive, they need to be welcoming every potential student and that prospective students feel this is a place they want to invest their life for the next four years,” Longman, the editor of Diversity Matters, explained.
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Source: Christian Post