Higher Education

INFOGRAPHIC: The New Indentured Servitude

While President Obama's "Student Aid Bill of Rights" is a prudent and necessary step towards aiding college students, his announcement comes late for the seven million borrowers already indentured to their education debt. In "Forgive Us Our Debts" (Sojourners, April 2015), Virginia Gilbert investigates the cause-and-effect battle of education debt and the way it is hindering a generation of college students. How big is the student debt burden? See below for the poor report card reveal. 

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A Model for Higher Ed


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IN A BID to relive our traveling days, my best friend from college and I took a weekend road trip to Berea, Ky., to check out a folk music festival. We got to be dancing fools again for one beautiful, moonlit night, imbibing hippie music to our hearts’ content.

We also got a heart full of something else—a little thing called the American Dream.

In addition to being home to a cool new music festival, that little holler in Kentucky is home to Berea College. I’ve stepped foot on more than 100 campuses in my 10-plus years running Interfaith Youth Core. Berea is unique.

Maybe it’s because it was started in 1855 by a slave owner’s son as an interracial, co-educational school seeking to live out the school’s motto, drawn from the book of Acts, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” Maybe it’s because the admission requirements include being smart, being willing to work hard, and being poor. Maybe it’s because the tuition is free. Maybe it’s because all students have a 10-hour-a-week campus job, ranging from office work to janitorial work.

Yes, you read all that right. A man whose family owned slaves took the Bible seriously enough to risk his life to start a college that educated blacks and whites and men and women, together, a decade before the civil war came to a close.

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BYU Graduates Complain to Accrediting Board Over School’s Treatment of Lapsed-Mormon Students

Photo via REUTERS / George Frey / RNS

A student walks past the entrance of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT. Photo via REUTERS / George Frey / RNS

A group of Brigham Young University graduates is strengthening its push for students who lose their Mormon faith to retain their spots at the private school.

Students do not have to be Mormon to attend the Provo university, but those who enter as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later leave the faith face expulsion from BYU.

Activist group FreeBYU filed a complaint last week with the nonprofit accrediting board that evaluates the LDS church-owned school for the U.S. Department of Education. The filing alleges that the policy hinders academic and intellectual freedom at BYU, which is due for a seven-year accreditation review in April.

Organizer Brad Levin says many students who are “in the closet” about changing or leaving their faith must censor themselves in classrooms, online, and in the wider BYU community. Such students should receive the same religious protection as non-Mormons, FreeBYU contends.

“They don’t know what’s going to put them in hot water,” Levin said.

Zaytuna College Recognized as First Accredited Muslim College in the U.S.

Photo via Zaytuna College / RNS

Mark Delp teaches formal logic to Zaytuna College freshmen. Photo via Zaytuna College / RNS

A college that requires the study of both Wordsworth and the Quran for graduation is now the first fully accredited Islamic university in America.

Zaytuna College, a five-year-old institution in Berkeley, Calif., was recognized in March by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, an academic organization that oversees public and private colleges and universities in the U.S.

The accreditation means Zaytuna, which owns only two buildings and has 50 students, is a legitimate institution of higher learning, only a few blocks from its esteemed neighbor, the University of California, Berkeley.

“Being accredited puts us at the same table” as other accredited colleges and universities, said Colleen Keyes, Zaytuna’s vice president of academic affairs.

“It makes us equal partners.”

For faculty — of which Zaytuna has 15 — it lends credibility and status.

Religious College Presidents Concerned with Common Threats to Their Schools

Photo via Robert Rogers / Baylor Marketing and Communications / RNS

Burleson Quadrangle at Baylor University. Photo via Robert Rogers / Baylor Marketing and Communications / RNS

Should religious colleges be bound by the same union and labor rules as secular universities? Or be rated by the same criteria?

Those questions and more will be tackled by the presidents of three major universities who say they are united in supporting the values that faith-based schools bring to higher education even as they grapple with government regulations that can challenge them.

For the first time, the top officials of Baylor University, Catholic University of America and Yeshiva University will lead a discussion Feb. 4 in Washington on the “calling” of faith-based universities.

Baylor University President Ken Starr said faith-related schools are charged with helping students learn about “living life purposefully,” which he said goes beyond simply helping students get jobs and be productive citizens.

“That’s very good, but is that enough?” said Starr, who leads the world’s largest Baptist university, in Waco, Texas. “We want to take the conversation to a broader level of what is in fact the education enterprise all about at its very best, at least from our perspective.”

All three leaders see challenges to the religious freedom of their institutions from the U.S. government.

Seminaries Awarded $1.5 million to Include Science in Coursework

Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Photo via Deryck Chan, Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Responding to a real or perceived gap between science and faith, 10 U.S. seminaries will receive a combined $1.5 million in grants to include science in their curricula, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Oct. 8.

A diverse set of Christian seminaries will be awarded grants ranging from $90,000 to $200,000 provided by the John Templeton Foundation, which has funded various efforts to bridge science and faith, including $3.75 million to AAAS for the project.

“Many (religious leaders) don’t get a lot of science in their training and yet they become the authority figures that many people in society look up to for advice for all kinds of things, including issues related to science and technology,” said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.

Indeed, evangelical Protestants are more than twice as likely as other Americans to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader or people at their congregation if they had a question about science, a study released by AAAS earlier this year suggested.

Stanley Hauerwas Drops Out of General Theological Seminary Lecture Series After Controversy

Stanley Hauerwas. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace/RNS.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.

On Oct. 8, the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.

Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.

“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”

Tensions at Episcopal Church’s Oldest Seminary Reflect Larger Crisis in Future of Theology Schools

General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City. Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr/RNS.

Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.

General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.

“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”

The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.

Tweets v. Tweaks: Financing Seminary Education (Part III)

Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the final piece in a three-part series on Financing Seminary Education. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“The higher education industry is facing a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation” (Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers,” American Interest (Sept/Oct). It seems higher education, including seminary education, is going the way of the music and media industries! Our 2,000-year-old business model of “sage on stage” could be truly doomed. The appearance of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) over the past few years has thrown many higher education institutions for a loop, and more innovations are on the way.

In response to these new innovations higher-ed institutions, including seminaries, have tweaked their business models with a few technological modifications such as PowerPoint, email, electronic research, and online courses. But, will it be enough? Butler says “no” and so do the trends. The reality is graduates of today’s higher-ed institutions are not evidencing the competencies expected and/or hoped for by their future employers. Consequently, accreditation standards, at an all-time high in complexity, are now beginning to be challenged. Simultaneously, tuitions are costly, the economy is tough, and the job market is even tougher. The end result is that students are graduating with large amounts of student loan debt and potential students are opting out of the education market.

We began the 21st century with denominations and churches that no longer fit the needs of a shifting society, a Congress that votes against the poor and the middle class, and seminaries that face multi-pronged threats to their existence. It’s time for an overhaul!