Parents and high school students are often asking my advice in regard to their undergraduate education. To those students who are well-grounded in their relationship with Jesus I almost invariably recommend attending a public university.
In my own life I decided to attend a public university for very specific reasons (in no particular order):
1. Quality of education. I have found in my state (Virginia) that public universities have the highest quality of professors and students. My undergraduate institution (The College of William and Mary) carefully selects students who are serious about academics and extra-curricular activities.
2. Campus Culture. Every university and college is different. You have to know what type of campus community is important to you. I wanted to go to a school that offered plenty of educational and extra-curricular activities but maintained a genuine feeling of community. I also wanted regular access to my professors outside of the classroom.
3. Cost. An in-state education is a significantly better value than most private or out-of-state colleges and universities.
4. Exposure. A public university offers diversity in so many ways. Many parents use the teenage years to shelter there kids. I believe it is essential to give young people opportunities to interact with persons who look, think, and act differently. Diversity of thought is essential to understand one’s own beliefs and learning how to articulate those beliefs. A “big view” of the world will combat narcissism, expand access to information, and give a more accurate portrayal of the world. Pew Research Center has found that 57% of United States Citizens have never lived outside of their hometown and 37% have never left their hometown!
A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age (C. S. Lewis).
A public education will ideally provide access to a wide range of scholarship and a diverse student body to deal with this common error.
5. Mission. I had been told that sharing the gospel to all people a la the Great Commission was important, but outside of a few short term mission trips in high school I had no real gospel opportunities. All of my friends went to my Christian high school or my church (read: Christian bubble). My undergraduate education was the first time in my life were the majority of my regular contacts and friendships were with non-believers. Sure my Mom was scared of the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” but she trusted me as a mature Christian young man (though she almost peed her pants when I mentioned that I was living in a co-ed dorm). Further, the context of a university lends itself to the free exchange of ideas. I have found few contexts more hospitable to the gospel (the dog park is coming in second right now). Further, bringing the “gospel to the nations” is particularly simple at college because the nations come to you in the form of international students. In addition, the university will help fund your own international excursions via study abroad programs!
At this point you might ask why I am really writing this post. I minister to parents and teenagers every week and I have noticed a particular brand of “bunker mentality.” It is essential to develop meaningful relationships with non-believers in which to model and articulate the gospel. These relationships cannot happen unless young adults are given opportunities to interact in the “real world.” Many Christians claim to be missionaries but have given up on going to hard places. Most college students in America go to public universities. How will we reach them with the gospel unless we go to public universities? Most of the world’s population lives in large, urban cities. How will we reach them with the gospel unless we go to these cities?