By Lisa Cannon Green
Enrollment is rising at faith-based colleges—and financial support may not be far behind.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans last week to loosen restrictions on how religious colleges receive and use federal funds.
The Education Department intends “to review and to amend or rescind” regulations that may “unnecessarily restrict” religious entities’ participation in federal grant programs, the announcement said.
That could be good news for Christian colleges, which have attracted an increasing number of students over the past 15 years, according to U.S. News & World Report.
First-time, full-time enrollment grew nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2015 at schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the CCCU told U.S. News.
And in its well-known annual survey of American colleges and universities, U.S. News also documented enrollment growth at schools with a Christian, non-Catholic affiliation.
In that group, “the five schools that grew the most in first-time, first-year enrollment over the last 15 years are institutions that offer faith-based education,” U.S. News wrote.
The five schools in that group with the highest freshman enrollment increases from fall 2001 to fall 2016:
- California Baptist University in Riverside, California
- Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas
- Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia
- Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee
- Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee
“Four of these Christian-based schools more than tripled the size of their incoming class since fall 2001,” U.S. News wrote.
It isn’t yet clear how Christian colleges may be affected by changes in the Education Department’s rules.
Federal student loans and grants such as the Pell Grant program for low-income students are already available to students at most faith-based schools.
However, some programs do have faith-related restrictions. The New York Times cites two examples:
- Federal work-study funds can’t be used to build or maintain a facility used for worship or sectarian instruction.
- States can’t partner with “pervasively sectarian” institutions for Gear Up, a program to prepare at-risk students for college.
The Education Department’s announcement follows a U.S. Supreme court ruling in June 2017 allowing religious institutions to receive government funds in certain circumstances.
In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, the court ruled that grants available to nonprofits for playground improvements could not be denied to a school playground owned by a church.
- College Freshmen Increasingly Drop Religion
- Christians on Campus: New Research Explores Links Between College and Faith
- 8 Ways to Keep College Students in Your Church
- How a Playground in Missouri Just Helped Your Church’s Religious Liberty
LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisaccgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.