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

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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 both a comprehensive spiritual and educational experience. 
However, many school leaders are cautiously questioning how the more spiritually minded community colleges will fare amidst a diverse population of both “faith based” and non-practicing students across the country.
Faith Based” Models in Higher Education Institutions
There are over 1,200 higher education institutions that are underpinned by religious denominations, but each “faith based” school can function in a variety of unique ways.  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 simply offered…at other schools, participation is required or at least expected.” 
Students often make their decisions not only on the underlying religious denominations, but also 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 that are dedicated to traditional evangelical values, wherein the campus structures their conduct guidelines based on a set of religious beliefs and values.  For example, some community colleges affiliate with Southern Baptist, Mennonite, and other Reformed Denominations. 
  • Schools which are 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 together with religious groups.  Partnering with four churches and the YWCA, this program allows Cuyahoga Community College students to take courses at faith-based facilities. 
Other campuses, such as SUNY Erie Community College, have also partnered with local churches to stimulate student enrollment.  SUNY Erie, for example, works with local faith-based organizations in Buffalo to recruit students, as well as 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. 
With a focus on the importance of education, HCC leaders are intending 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 are employing faith-based outreach programs to encourage more students to enroll.  With President Obama creating the White House Office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the trend is likely to continue.

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