USA Today Says Many Small, Conservative Christian Colleges Are Growing and That’s Unusual

Students listen to Dr. Tiberius Rata, the associate dean at the School of Ministry Studies at Grace College and Seminary preach during chapel service inside the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on the campus in Winona Lake, Indiana on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (ERIC SEALS, DETROIT FREE PRESS)

Two faculty members of a small, private Midwestern college are up on stage, one sitting behind an electronic keyboard, the other strumming the opening chords of a song on a guitar.

They sing, “God sent His Son, they called him Jesus. He came to love, heal and forgive. …” The Grace College students scattered around the athletic arena now serving as a chapel join in to raise up the Southern gospel classic “Because He Lives.”

When the last note slowly fades away, students raise their arms high, not in worship but in an effort to get their smartphones to capture the QR code now displayed on the screens — the pandemic’s way of recording attendance at the mandatory chapel service.

Grace College in rural Indiana, like others that dot Michigan and neighboring states, exists in a subculture of the higher education landscape — conservative colleges where students are required to sign lifestyle covenants and attend daily chapel. They also are part of a rare group — small, private colleges with growing or stable enrollment.

A review conducted by the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, of 34 four-year colleges that are charter members of a new conservative association of Christian colleges — to which Grace belongs — shows total enrollment at those schools up nearly 8% when comparing fall enrollment in 2020 with fall enrollment in 2010.

A longer-running and bigger association of Christian colleges — with a generally broader canvas of Christian beliefs and practices — is also seeing growth, but less dramatically. Total enrollment is up about 3% over that same decade.

The growth at both sets of Christian colleges far outpaces the overall trend in the private nonprofit school sector. According to a Free Press review of federal data, total enrollment at 950 nonprofit four-year colleges across the country, those under 5,000 students, fell by about 10% from 2010 to 2020. Individual colleges in any of the categories can outperform or underperform the trend, experts caution.

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SOURCE: USA Today; Detroit Free Press, David Jesse