Faith Based Initiatives at Community Colleges: Faux Pas or Politically Correct?

Faith Based Initiatives at Community Colleges: Faux Pas or Politically Correct?
Learn about how religious initiatives at community colleges are growing in popularity and how these programs will impact the dynamics on campus.

While mixing religion with education was once reserved for private schools, some community colleges have created faith-based programs for their campuses. These community colleges hope to provide the right environment for students who desire a comprehensive spiritual and educational experience.

However, many school leaders cautiously question how the more spiritually-minded community colleges will fare amidst a diverse population of “faith-based” and non-practicing students nationwide.

Faith-Based” Models in Higher Education Institutions

Religious denominations underpin over 1,200 higher education institutions, but each “faith-based” school can function uniquely. For example, as College View further reveals,

“The opportunities for spiritual growth vary from school to school—as do the requirements for participation. At some schools, religious services and classes are offered…at other schools, participation is required or at least expected.”

Students often decide on the underlying religious denominations and how strictly these religious beliefs structure the campus environment. Students considering a “faith-based” school can choose from several types of structural options, including:

  • Schools that celebrate a religious history dating back to the school’s founders. However, these schools may or may not include the particular origin of religion as a major part of their modern-day instruction or campus functions.
  • Schools are dedicated to traditional evangelical values, wherein the campus structures its conduct guidelines based on religious beliefs and values. For example, some community colleges affiliate with Southern Baptist, Mennonite, and other Reformed Denominations.
  • Schools open to non-evangelical beliefs, wherein colleges adhere to the values of Catholicism, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Judaism, or other religions.

Of course, students can take advantage of faith-based opportunities at campuses that do not specifically focus on one religious perspective. Most campuses provide students with a ministry office, where students can learn more about on-campus religious groups.

Examining the “Faith-Based” Model in the Surrounding College Community

When former President George W. Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, this action triggered grassroots movements at the community college level. For example, Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, created a faith-based initiative that partnered the campus with religious groups. Partnering with four churches and the YWCA, this program allows Cuyahoga Community College students to take courses at faith-based facilities.

This video looks at religious and faith-based initiatives in the urban setting.

Other campuses, such as SUNY Erie Community College, have partnered with local churches to stimulate student enrollment. SUNY Erie, for example, works with local faith-based organizations in Buffalo to recruit students and host classes directly at churches. This program has resulted in unique benefits, including creating classroom atmospheres that have been more welcoming to older students.

Houston Community College (HCC) and the “HCC Faith-Based Education Opportunity Initiative” are additional examples of how religion and public schools can intermingle. Although HCC is not officially considered a “faith-based school,” the initiative allows students to join together for fellowship. In addition, the group conducts outreach to local churches and congregations to promote the community college. Employees of the program will devote Saturdays and Sundays to working with five faith-based organizations in the school's surrounding district.

This video offers a look at the proactive approach Houston Community College takes to various issues involving its community.

With a focus on the importance of education, HCC leaders intend to “Encourage higher levels of access, persistence, and completion of graduation requirements for transfer to higher education through a deliberate partnership with five faith-based organizations located throughout the HCC district.”

Although public community colleges cannot hold a religious denomination, many campuses employ faith-based outreach programs to encourage more students to enroll. The trend will likely continue with President Obama creating the White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

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