The Future of the Churches of Christ: Christian College Attendance

Very interesting story in the Christian Chronicle, thanks to research by Flavil Yeakley. It seems that Church of Christ-affiliated universities are admitting fewer students who identify as members of the Churches of Christ.

Here’s the data –

Total enrollment

1997: 5,820
1998: 5,882
1999: 6,219
2000: 6,643
2001: 6,636
2002: 6,351
2003: 6,164
2004: 6,299
2005: 6,553
2006: 6,331
2007: 5,328
2008: 5,371
2009: 5,361

Church of Christ members

1997: 3,664 (63%)
1998: 3,754 (63.8%)
1999: 4,351 (70%)
2000: 4,411 (66.4%)
2001: 4,461 (67.2%)
2002: 4,060 (63.9%)
2003: 4,034 (65.4%)
2004: 4,208 (66.8%)
2005: 4,175 (63.7%)
2006: 4,029 (63.6%)
2007: 3,080 (57.8%)
2008: 2,948 (54.9%)
2009: 2,858 (53.3%)

Not members

1997: 2,156 (37%)
1998: 2,128 (36.2%)
1999: 1,868 (30%)
2000: 2,232 (33.6%)
2001: 2,175 (32.8%)
2002: 2,291 (36.1%)
2003: 2,130 (34.6%)
2004: 2,091 (33.2%)
2005: 2,378 (36.3%)
2006: 2,302 (36.4%)
2007: 2,248 (42.2%)
2008: 2,423 (45.1%)
2009: 2,503 (46.7%)

Notice that total enrollment began to fall in 2007, surely in part due to the economy. But the enrollment of Church of Christ students began to decline in 2002, so it’s not really driven by the economy. The enrollment of non-Church of Christ students has been rising, but was fairly flat until the last two years. Interesting …

It’s easy to figure that the more progressive universities are drawing students from a broader base — especially the independent Christian Churches — but it’s hard to see why Church of Christ enrollment would be in decline unless students are more inclined to see themselves as non-denominational or the total number of graduating high school seniors within the Churches is in decline.

Here’s my theory — and it’s just a theory. The conservative numbers are in numerical decline. The progressive numbers are growing at about the same pace that the conservatives are shrinking, but progressive families are less sold on the necessity (and expense) of a Christian college education. After all, they are less likely to see the risk of having a child marry a Baptist as earth shattering.

In addition, many progressive Churches of Christ have lost the denominational name and become truly non-denominational, and yet their families still send their kids to ACU or Lipscomb. They remain culturally and theologically Church of Christ enough to pick a Church school, but the kid doesn’t check the Church of Christ box when he enrolls.

So those are interesting theories. But why did it happen so suddenly? Why did the change hit in just the last two years?

Beats me.

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  1. They should have labeled that chart better. It should be titled something like "Total enrollment of freshman" or "Total freshman enrollment – 18 institutions"

    The way the chart reads you would think this was the combined enrollment of all the institutions (Freshman-Senior) but that obviously is not the case as the numbers are far too low for that.

  2. I wonder how many student/parents who attend a Church of Christ consider a Christian university not affiliated with the Churches of Christ? I do kow a couple of families in Indiana who attended a CoC and sent their children to Taylor University because it was a Christian based college and geographically close proximity to home. And in Minnesota there were some CoC students who went to Bethel University for the same reasons as those who went to Taylor University. With that being said, I suspect that some of the non-CoC students who come from other Christian fellowships choose Harding, ACU, etc… because of factors that not only include scholarships but also because the education is Christian based and its geographical proximity to home.

    It would be really interesting to know how important denominational affiliation is for college students and parents when selecting a college to attend for both those affiliated with the CoC as well as those from other Christian fellowships.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Is it not strange that we the church of Christ would limit and disqualify our own in in the name of education only to find non coC students better suited for our indoctrination? How petty, I smell a rat…..or is it the lack of support by the universal church a matter that should dictate a change in direction? There is something about para church institutions that has always bothered me. I know some institution have become very proficient at what they do. They are well oiled machines. But sometimes those machines are no longer the tools of trade. I believe the drop over the last two years is a sign that the institutions themselves no longer need to be affiliated with the churches of Christ.

    However this maybe a good thing. The church desperately needs to reclaim the values of marriage,family, careers, and faith in there communities. Even if this means we don't get that dream job and upper middle class lifestyle. The church has to be the reality of what Christianity means. For too many of our institutions are selling a pipe-dream to our kids of Christian utopia .

  4. I'd also like to see figures for enrollments in secular institutions. The degree is not worth what it once was (market saturation, for one thing), so I would not be surprised to see enrollment down for all schools across the board. That would be my first guess as a main issue, remembering that these decisions are usually multifaceted, involving costs, nontraditional options, many kids having their own businesses by the time they graduate high school, and so on.

    On top of that, throw in the "You can go to a school that's just like church!" (common mentality) and I'm sure that would seal the "no way" for the student, regardless of their denomination.

  5. i have several friends who have gone to OKlahoma Christian, and to echo brad, they largely agree that the degree isn't worth the cost. There are terrible nightmares that ensue when you try to transfer credits over to another college–you lose a ton of your hours. You can get yourself into a situation where the only place you can viably finish your degree is at OC even though you can get yourself into circumstances where you can't afford to go back. Furthermore, they don't have anywhere near the degree selection of the other universities in OKC. For some reason, it appears that philosophy (my current grad program) is quite excluded from their list of offerings or emphases.

    i grew up here in OKC and never desired to go to OC. They force you to live on campus for your first year (actually, i think it's first two or three years) so that it's even more outrageously expensive. They force you to attend chapel everyday. They don't have very flexible class scheduling (i wouldn't have made it through college without evening and night classes since i had to work and tote my son to and from school) and they have curfews. So basically, it's going to a place where for four (typically five, i understand) more years, you won't be treated like an adult. Yeah, sure, sign me up.

    My son can go to school where he wants, and if he wants to attend a CoC university (or any other private christian school that functions similarly), that'll be up to him. But i certainly won't push it on him, and i definitely won't recommend it to him.

    –Guy

  6. I wonder whether the universities are admitting more athletes to satisfy Title IX or because they're adding more athletic programs? The universities often recruit non-Church of Christ kids and even non-Christians to their sports teams.

  7. "universities often recruit non-Church of Christ kids and even non-Christians to their sports teams"

    "They force you to attend chapel everyday"

    These two statements from Jay and Guy are what deeply trouble me about our institutions. “Recruit” and “force” are words that don't sound like Jesus especially in the context there used.
    My concerns is what is the message? It seems to me there is already a built in bias to church of Christ athletes and Catholic ideologies. Are the administrations and trustee really that insensitive?

  8. Having attended one (and still attending another) of "our" universities, and having taught at that same university, I can verify that the athletic programs recruit on perceived talent first and religious preference second (and in many cases, character a distant third). Many of my students who were on the football or track teams had not the first clue about CofC anything, nor did they have any interest. Chapel is universally loathed, but whether that has to do with it being required or something else, I don't know. I'd vote for the lack of comfortable seating…

  9. "Chapel is universally loathed, but whether that has to do with it being required or something else, I don’t know. I’d vote for the lack of comfortable seating…"

    I rest my case……

  10. I know this an old post but it is still relevant. Between the administrators and trustees, their aim is and forever will be to please the donors, and the donors have decided that mandatory chapel attendance will make people better Christians. Thus required worship every day. The speakers are generally not too good and remind you of a bad Sunday’s sermon only this is an everyday occurrence. And that Harding you saved your skips you knew Jimmy Allen was going to preach.