Why is your child considering college? Is it simply the next step on the academic ladder or has God placed a vision for how acquiring a college degree will provide preparation for God’s plan for his or her life? As you read this post may I encourage you to make two “tip” lists—one for you and one for your child. Or better yet, have your child make his or her own list.
The majority of my professional career has been spent in Christian Higher Education. As you can imagine, during my sojourn I have observed numerous trends and changes in the collegiate culture. Each contributed to my quest to remain relevant in my profession and actively connected to the collegiate community so that I could provide my students with an education that has an eternal purpose.
Reflecting on my years in higher education, I find myself responding with the principle that Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:9 reiterate—there is really nothing new under the sun. Certainly the complexion of the student population has changed; it is more diverse and has more exposure to the secular world. The advent of the internet and social networking significantly impacts interpersonal relationships, as well as the quality of work produced by the students. Incidents of plagiarism have accelerated to the extent that professors now use software programs to verify that the student did not download a research paper from the internet, lightly edit it, and then submit it as their work. The students’ approach to life is often consumer driven rather than reflecting the life of servanthood described in Mark 10:35-44.
Yet, as I view the current college students, I am reminded that I have always had to deal with sin in the Christian college environment. The way that it manifests itself may be different today, but the choice to violate biblical principles is like bills are always with us. It would be easy to condemn the students’ behavior if I did not stop and meditate that I too am simply a sinner saved by grace (Romans 3:23). So, rather than bemoaning the state of the 21st century college culture, I choose to focus on how I can challenge my students to pursue an education for the Real World.
Qualities of a Real Education
A legitimate and genuine education involves the investment of hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. Since its pursuit is costly wise stewardship should challenge the student to derive maximum return on the investment. Whether in a faith-based or secular institution a real education challenges the student to intersect with divine revelation. The primary purpose of higher education for Christian students is to acquire the training that will produce fruitful Christ-honoring lives. As believers they were “saved and called to a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9). Following salvation, they are challenged to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). Eventually they are called to give account to God for how they have used their talents and resources (Romans 14:12). Thus, the goal of their education is not to simply matriculate into another educational experience or acquire the training to attain a lucrative job, but rather to hone their skills so that they are more effective for the kingdom of God than they would be without the higher educational experience.
Maximizing the Educational Experience
Choosing to embrace excellence is one of the best ways to maximize one’s educational experience. Realizing that God cares about excellence should motivate Christian students to believe that their loving heavenly Father is willing to assist them in achieving the level of excellence that He deems acceptable for their talents and abilities. His Word teaches them that they are capable of doing all that He calls them to do (Philippians 4:13).
Throughout the Scriptures Christians are reminded that they will be judged on the quality of their work (1 Corinthians 3:13, 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). Practically speaking, whether students are studying for an exam or participating in campus activities, their deepest motivation should be to please their heavenly Father. Consider studying as a family what Scripture teaches in these verses about excellence: Psalm 8:1; Proverbs 22:1; Deuteronomy 32:1-4; 2 Samuel 22:31; Matthew 5:48; Leviticus 1:10, 22:19-25.
When Christian students complete an assignment or activity, it should represent their best effort (Leviticus 22:24). As well, it should be first offered up as a sacrifice to their heavenly Father before it is presented to the professor. A parent’s role is to encourage excellence by praying rather than nagging!
As children of the heavenly Father, Christian students should want to be numbered in the minority. Though others may choose to “cut the corners” on their assignments, Christian students should endeavor to put a signature of excellence on all they do.
Walking Worthy of One’s Calling as a Christian Student
How do Christian students keep their walk strong and growing in a higher education environment? Regardless of whether they are in a secular or faith-based institution there are several principles that can, if applied, assist them in strengthening their faith while they pursue their education.
- Prayerfully consider the choice of the institution (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:7). While it is helpful to visit it, seek godly counsel, and consider the financial implications, prayer is the key element in determining the Lord’s choice for the Christian student.
- Once the decision is made remain steadfast in it for the term (James 1:5-8). Quitting before it is completed sets a precedent for a lifestyle of abandoning challenging circumstances.
- Maximize the tuition dollar. Unfortunately, higher education is one of the products that people are willing to pay full price for and then derive minimum benefit from the investment. A helpful exercise to complete before the term begins is to calculate the amount of each class session. This is accomplished by dividing the entire tuition bill including books, supplies, incidentals, and lab fees by the number of class sessions for the semester. Before skipping a class session pose the question, “How many hours did I or my parents have to work to earn the amount of money that this class session is costing? Am I willing to waste that amount of money by choosing to miss it?” Christian students should endeavor to be faithful stewards of the financial resources that are being invested in their education (Luke 12:41-48).
- Locate a Bible-believing church and become an active member. Worshipping with other believers regularly is a vital part of one’s spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:25). Purpose to be a contributor rather than merely a consumer.
- Establish biblical priorities. This means that one’s God-given talents must be identified, (Matthew 25:1-30), committed (Romans 12:1-2), and entrusted to Him so that He can multiply them (Philippians 4:13). A Christian’s priorities should reflect an eternal perspective and follow the model of the Lord, who glorified His Father while He was on earth by finishing the work His Father gave Him to do (John 17:4).
- Seek to cultivate a mentor relationship. A mentor is someone who possesses the character, knowledge, skills, expertise, and experience that an individual needs to integrate into their lives. College students need the wisdom of mature believers. If you are a mature believer choose to be available to them (Titus 2:3-8).
- Cautiously use social networks. Current research suggests that social networking can be hazardous to securing a professional job as well as potentially impair future relationships. As the amount of personal information available online grows, first impressions are often formed before an individual personally meets the student. Students should not post anything on a site or a friend’s site that they would not want a prospective employer, pastor, or future in-law to see (Ephesians 4:1-3).
- Instead of listening to rumors about potential professors, wise college students will wait until they actually have a class with them to formulate their opinions. After all, the students would not want the professors to have a negative attitude about them when they see their name on the class list. Christian students should extend their professors the same courtesy (Proverbs 18:8, 26:20).
- Purpose to enjoy the college experience rather than focusing on life after graduation. Though my students do not believe me when I tell them that they have more discretionary time during their college years than they will have until they retire, it is a true statement. Since the college years are preparation for the Lord’s next assignment, maximizing each day to its fullest potential ensures that the graduate will complete their degree with no regrets (John 10:10).
- Parents, allow your child to mature in the college environment. Being a “helicopter” parent detracts you from God’s assignment to you at this season of life and frustrates your child!
A Parting Word
Regardless of your college choice, do focus on the truth that you are always a Christian first and an alumnus of the college second. Make sure that your institution choice and experience is one that aligns with a Christian’s highest purpose—that of glorifying God (Colossians 3:17)!
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Blessings on your week as you focus on making your house a home!