Disruptions to Campus Ministry – Past, Present, Future

The Hickerson Family, sometime in the 1950s

A haggle of Hickersons in their native 1950s Oklahoma habitat. Mike's father is the bald one with glasses.

At the Faith on Campus blog, campus minister Steve Lutz outlines Four Disruptions That Could Shake Up Campus Ministry. It’s a good list that matches research I did earlier this year on trends in higher education. Steve’s list, however, led me to thinking about disruptions that have already taken place in higher education and how they have affected campus ministry.

My father and I graduated college about 40 years apart – he with a Bachelors in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Tulsa, I with a BA in English from the University of Louisville. I became a Christian at the beginning of my junior year, then became heavily involved with InterVarsity as a student leader during both of my senior years (you read that right). My father wasn’t as heavily involved with campus ministry, but he did attend a Bible study that, as best as I can tell, was affiliated with InterVarsity. More on that in a second.

In the decades between our college experiences, a number of changes took place with direct impact on campus ministry. Here are just a few.

The Role of Faculty. That Bible study my father went to? It was led by one of his chemistry professors. This was fairly common in those days of InterVarsity’s ministry. InterVarsity staff covered territories that includes several campuses, and they would only visit each campus a few times a year. On-campus activities were led by students and faculty. Granted, my father went to a private, church-affiliated college while I attended a public research university, but none of my professors even mentioned their religious beliefs in class – not even when their biases had obvious impact (such as a literature professor who could not separate the religious beliefs of certain 20th century poets from the religious beliefs of her mother).

College as Option vs. College as Assumption. The GI Bill paid for my father’s college education – he went into the Marines out of high school. When I graduated high school, it was assumed that you would go to college if you were in the top half of the graduating class. Our local school system just reported that 68% of its high school graduates are attending college this fall (though I doubt the accuracy of that number). Once, college was reserved for students from certain social classes or for students entering certain professions. There are still plenty of career options or post-high school options that don’t involve college, but those are frequently looked down upon or simply overlooked in discussions of vocation.

What Degrees Do You Need? When my father first became an engineer, he worked alongside older engineers who had no college education but had worked their way into engineering. By the time he retired, many of his younger colleagues had PhDs. I have two college degrees myself, and often wonder if I need more. For many students, college is no longer preparation for a career, but preparation for the preparation for a career.

Student Body Makeup In a way, my father was a “nontraditional” student, though there were plenty of other veterans in college at that time. However, in the 1950s, the typical college student was a white male in his late teens or early twenties, who attended college full-time. When I attended Louisville in the 1990’s, a school publication observed that the average UofL student was a black woman in her mid-30s, who had young children at home and worked a full-time job while attending classes part-time. Several of my classmates participated in the UPS work-study program made (in)famous by Marc Bousquet in his book How the University Works, in which students worked at UPS’ shipping facility from midnight to 4am while taking evening classes or extremely early morning classes.

I don’t mean to romanticize the past or gloss over the challenges of previous generations of campus ministers. Instead, I want us to consider how campus ministry has already changed because of changes to the university environment.

What disruptions have you seen personally that have affected campus ministry? What disruptions do you anticipate in the near future?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • annalee77@gmail.com'
    Anna Lee-Winans commented on October 19, 2010 Reply

    Great reflections, Mike. My thoughts is the dawning of the on-line university and the increasing enrollment in Community Colleges will be, not so much a disruption, but a necessary focus for campus ministry to tackle with creativity.

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on October 20, 2010 Reply

      Thanks, Anna. I agree completely – especially if we are to be true to InterVarsity’s vision of serving the whole campus. Recently, an ESN member contacted us about a grad student fellowship she has started at her online university. Tom and I have given her some assistance, though she is definitely a “missional student” taking full leadership of this project. I’m very interested in seeing how their fellowship develops.

      • Tom Grosh IV commented on October 25, 2010 Reply

        @ Anna: Amen!

        With regard to the project Mike mentions, I am very excited about its possibilities. Maybe this could be a case study for creative forms of ‘campus’/collegiate ministry. If anyone else has contacts in (and/or thoughts regarding) on-line ministry, I have much interest. Please post/email.

        As to not just community colleges and on-line universities, but also liberal arts colleges (Elizabethtown College, Franklin & Marshall College), professional/research campuses (e.g., Penn State University-Hershey Medical Center which is two hours from ‘the main campus’), small state universities (Millersville University, but also ‘extension campuses’ moving the the direction of becoming their own four year colleges, e.g., Penn State Harrisburg), I’m enjoying the hands on exploration of how our Graduate & Faculty Ministry/Emerging Scholars Network ministers in these contexts. Note: Another unique category for me has been connecting with resource people (e.g., faculty who can serve as speakers, partners in hosting speakers), Emerging Scholars and future professionals at Christian colleges such as Messiah College. If anyone else has contacts in (and/or thoughts regarding) such labors, I have much interest. Please post/email.

  • stevelutzcco@gmail.com'
    Steve Lutz commented on October 25, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for referencing that post, Micheal! I’d be interested in reading any research you’ve done on coming trends.

    We are fans of Emerging Scholars up here in PA, and I believe recently hosted someone from ES at our Faith for Thought conference in State College.

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on October 25, 2010 Reply

      Steve, I “took in” Faith for Thought the other weekend and very much enjoyed it. I hung w/some old friends, e.g., Byron & Derek. In addition, I made some great contacts not only for future posts (possibly interviews), but also for ‘on the ground ministry,’ e.g., PSU-Hershey Medical Center, which is one of my focal points of campus ministry.

      Would love to be involved in Faith for Thought in some manner in the future. Maybe we could chat on my next trip to State College, still working on the date. Also Jubilee’s a possibility, I have it on my calendar. In Christ, Tom

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