College should build character

Houghton Logo I have been reflecting today on two completely independent items that I read.  The first was an article about the problem of officers being ejected from the Army in alarming numbers for character issues of various kinds. Here is the quote. 

“The number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has soared in the past several years as the military emerges from a decade of war that put a greater focus on battle competence than on character.  Data obtained by The Associated Press shows that the number of officers who left the Army due to misconduct more than tripled in the past three years.”

Having been in the military myself for a few years, I am aware that young officers are college graduates.  I reflected that this is not the only place where college educated people seem to be showing disappointing levels of moral character.   The halls of Congress and the governors’ offices of several eastern states in recent years have provided too many high profile examples of moral failures.  One would hope that higher levels of education would lead to higher maturity of character too. 

The other item that I read was in a letter from Dr. Shirley Mullen of Houghton College.   It alluded to one of the fundamental causes of this observed counterintuitive and disturbing decline in character.

“Earlier this month, New York Times Columnist David Brooks addressed more than 300 presidents of America’s private universities and colleges at the Presidents’ Institute of the Council of Independent Colleges.   At a time when much of the dialogue about higher education in America is about cost, graduation rates, job training, and student loans, Brooks pleaded with the presidents not to forget what society needs most from college graduates: character and wisdom. He then proceeded to assert that the only sector of American higher education that has an explicit strategy for the development of character and wisdom is the Christian college. It is not often that Christian colleges are called out for praise within the larger world of American higher education!”  

It does not take a genius to see the relationship between these two quotes. Christian colleges represent only a very small slice of American higher education. That means most of American college graduates spend their college years in institutions where character and wisdom are not part of the agenda.  When these are not part of the agenda, students often use their formative years as something of an unholy “moral holiday,” a time when they throw off restraint.   With no one even attempting to guide this time of experimentation, the results are frequently predictably disastrous.

As a longtime advocate of Christian colleges in general and of Houghton College in particular, I have said for years that parents need to invest their college dollars in colleges were character matters and where good character is formed, not destroyed; colleges like Houghton.   For this reason, when our daughter was choosing a college my wife and I said to her, “We are going to be investing a lot of money in this; you pick the college, but it has to be a Christian college.”   We knew she liked new places, so it was a surprise when she picked her mother’s alma mater, Houghton College.  Houghton did not disappoint!