In the U.S. there are approximately 4,500 colleges and universities (2,774 4-year institutions and 1,721 2-year institutions). Most of the institutions that were founded prior to 1900 began as Christian colleges, though only about 970 schools are still religiously affiliated. Out of those 970 sectarian schools, 570 are distinctively Christian.
America has almost as many Christian schools as the entire rest of the world combined. But that’s quickly changing. As the Chronicles of Higher Education notes, in the developing world there is a renaissance in Christian higher education:
As the economies of the developing world have grown, they have created a nearly insatiable demand for higher education, especially in the Global South. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of university students has risen from 800,000 in 1985 to three million in 2002. A significant footnote to this growth has been the rapid expansion of Christian higher education in the developing world. Of the nearly 600 Christian universities outside the United States and Canada, 30 percent were started since 1980. Since 1990, 138 new Christian universities have been started, 46 of them in Africa.
As Christian universities in the United States cope with the Great Recession, I wonder whether they are destined someday to become a remote backwater of a global Christian-college movement centered in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Perhaps what happens in places such as Uganda Christian University will shape the future of Christian higher education more than MOOCs or the next gadget from Apple.
This phenomenon is similar to Christian missions. Although most missionaries still hail from the U.S., the numbers from developing countries are increasing. And just like in missions, there is a concern that the Western way of doing things may not be the best or only method. As Rick Ostrander, provost of Cornerstone University, says:
. . . I wonder about the extent to which the “partnership” between U.S. and African Christian universities is a one-way street. Are we simply exporting Western models of higher education rooted in the ideas of some Dutch Calvinists from the late 19th century? Given the social challenges facing the continent, would more of an emphasis on problem-based learning be a more effective way to integrate faith and learning? Perhaps African universities could mentor their American counterparts on how best to integrate not just faith and learning, but faith, learning, and service.
We Christians in America do often assume our Western way of doing things is the best and our methods the most advanced. But we have much we could learn, as Ostrander says, about how to integrate faith and learning. Maybe the founders of Uganda’s version of Harvard or Brazil’s equivalent to Princeton can even teach us how we can keep distinctively Christian schools from taking a turn for the secular.
Catholic education has played a major role in the development of Western nations, yet it is in many places in crisis. To bring about renewal, it is necessary to revisit the subject with an eye to fundamental questions. What is the purpose of education? What is distinctive about Catholic education? What is the right relationship between schools, parents, Church, and society?