Faith-based colleges offer classical education, see increases in enrollment: report

Faith-based colleges and universities are seeing an increase in enrollment as ‘college enrollment has decreased by 13 percent over the last decade,' according to one report.

These colleges offer a classic education, or the ‘study of original sources in the great works of literature, history, mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, theology and the other disciplines.’

A recent article in First Things, a publication of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, explains the rising enrollment at faith-based colleges. 

The Institute on Religion and Public Life is a non-profit that “advance[s] a religiously informed public philosophy,” according to the First Things website. 

Jeremy Tate, “the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test (CLT), a humanities-focused alternative to the SAT and ACT tests,” listed examples of colleges and universities that saw increases in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increases, which he attributed to these institutions’ classic education model, come as “college enrollment has decreased by 13 percent over the last decade.”

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University of Dallas (UD) President Jonathan J. Sanford described the classic education in a university magazine: the “study of original sources in the great works of literature, history, mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, theology and the other disciplines.”

One Catholic institution offering a classic education is Thomas Aquinas College. Thomas Aquinas, which was founded in Santa Paula, California, “just celebrated the first graduating class at a brand new campus in Massachusetts,” according to Tate. 

Meanwhile, UD, another Catholic institution, “welcomed the second largest incoming class in its sixty-six-year history” in the fall 2022 semester

Tate wrote that “Michigan’s Hillsdale College,” a Christian college, had “applications climbing 53 percent“ in the fall of 2021

These colleges and universities are “just a sampling of institutions that have embraced a curriculum rooted in Western tradition—and the faith—only to discover their programs have become more relevant, not less so, to a younger generation,” Tate reported. 

CLT discussed the benefits that curricula and standardized testing based in the classic education bring to students. 

What we consider ‘the classics’ are those texts that have had the greatest influence on the intellectual tradition, history, and culture of our shared society,” CLT told Campus ReformBy providing students with meaningful passages that have not been stripped of beauty, virtue, or intellectual rigor, we give students a chance to engage with the authors and ideas that have sculpted the society we live in today.”

“No knowledge exists in a vacuum, and by acknowledging that our present understanding of the world descends from a great tradition, we prepare students to encounter ideas old and new and engage with them meaningfully,” CLT continued. 

Clare Venegas, the UD Vice President for Marketing & Communications, told Campus Reform that the university’s “Core Curriculum” is “rooted in the study of the great works of Western and Catholic intellectual tradition.” 

Consistently, our graduates that have gone onto successful careers in law, medicine, public service, religious life, and other fields tell us that the benefits of a classical, liberal arts education are many—from learning to think critically, to writing and communicating well,” Venegas told Campus Reform

[RELATED: OPINION: Leftists’ calculated attacks on Western Civics opened door for ideological indoctrination] 

Hannah Rowan, a Hillsdale alumna and managing editor at The American Spectator, told Campus Reform that “the approach to learning” stood out to her when she first considered attending the college. She recalled a conversation with an admissions director. 

“He asked me about the ‘good’ of the chair I was sitting on and the water bottle I was clutching in increasing bewilderment–and fascination,” Rowan said. “This was my first conversation about Aristotle, and though I wish it happened before age 17 I was glad it did then.”

In his essay, Sanford described UD’s approach to education, which also appears to use Aristotelian ethics.

“We humans are integrated wholes with minds, brains, passions, senses and bodies,” Sanford wrote. “Because of this, we cannot hope to cultivate virtues of the mind without the virtues of character.”

Venegas said that students and families cite this approach as one of the “factors that attract them to UD.”

She also said that the university “strive[s] to provide financial aid that will make a UD education affordable to any deserving student.”

“Our first-generation students have benefited from the recent generosity of a number of foundations, such as the Constantin Foundation and the Teagle Foundation,” Venegas said. 

The Constantin Scholars Program offers “scholarships and special programming” to first-generation college students, and the Teagle Foundation provided a grant for the College Citizens program, which offers a “crash course” on the UD curriculum. Program graduates also receive help “with the college admissions process and scholarship applications” and “college readiness workshops,” according to the program website. 

Tate reported on the affordability of institutions like UD. 

Full enrollment combined with donations from enthusiastic alumni and donors have allowed classically minded institutions to keep tuition at modest levels—at least, compared to their conventional peers,” Tate wrote. 

In a previous interview with Campus Reform, Tate said that his standardized test, the CLT, “aims to present students with time-tested authors like John Locke, Frederick Douglass, and Plato.” 

Campus Reform reported that “[m]any of the top CLT institutions” that accept the test, ”like Hillsdale College and Baylor University, also rank high in Campus Reform’s campus profile series for free speech and political diversity among employees.”

Hillsdale instructors approach the “political and faith traditions” taught by a classic education “on their own terms instead of bending them to fit their own political views and ends,” according to Rowan. 

“My favorite classes were those that were guided by the question[s], ‘Who was this writer? How can we understand him or her better by understanding his words, his time, and his place?’” Rowan said. “That’s miles from the common criticism of colleges that mine texts for political grievances or personal validation, whether to bolster one’s preexisting beliefs or further one’s career.”

Campus Reform contacted Tate, Thomas Aquinas College, and Classic Learning Test for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.