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?