The Values-Based Higher Education | OP-ED
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By their very nature, colleges and universities serve to bring together people from different cultures and backgrounds as one community. At their best, campus communities build a strong sense of unity that empowers students to apply their education in the broader world to make a transformative impact. Higher education is ideally positioned to elicit positive effects. Catholic universities are at the heart of leading that change. Shafik (2021) describes the value proposition well by noting, “We need a social contract that … is less about ‘me’ and more about ‘we’.”
While many faith-based and non-faith-based schools have experienced mergers, closures, and acquisitions, the shrinking landscape highlights the importance of the higher education opportunities available that focus on faith-based values—for those with religious affiliations as well as those without. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 there were approximately 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States, enrolling 700,000 students in the 2019-20 academic year. Of those students, 46.7% identified as Roman Catholic in the 2019 Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) Freshmen Survey—which demonstrates that students of all faiths are finding their place at these institutions.
With today’s college students facing information overload and diminished personal interactions in part as a result of the pandemic, the values-driven focus of a Catholic university has broad appeal for anyone looking to develop job-ready knowledge in the context of reflection and service, centered on human connection. Catholic universities provide educational excellence while ensuring that the outcome is holistic by preparing students to become contributors in life. The focus on core values in the Catholic tradition inspires personal growth and speaks to all individuals, across all religions, and to those who do not practice any religion.
In the classroom, students learn from one another through dialogue, analysis, and discovery, introducing them to areas where they can make a difference and enact change. Taking care of the community and those in need is a mainstay of Catholic teachings. Catholic universities are uniquely positioned to elevate that messaging and action as part of a commitment to social justice to fulfill our daily responsibilities to family, community, and ourselves. And as noted by Busteed (2022), universities must “create intentional and scalable initiatives to improve career readiness and outcomes for students” arming them with skills for the workforce. Values-based institutions are particularly focused on this area by asking students to employ critical thinking, service-learning, and team-building through experiential opportunities.
These values are ingrained in the fabric of many faith-based colleges that adopt a broader responsibility to care for the world. The appeal of a mission that is centered on the dignity of the human person is far-reaching, particularly at a time when inclusivity, equity, and equality continue to be called into question. The ability to access quality, affordable education that matches one’s values is essential.
When we start with recognition of the dignity of one another, we can work together to achieve greatness. At the heart of Catholic higher education is the idea of creating a welcoming and sacred space for all. At a time when gun violence and high crime are an everyday occurrence, never has this notion been more relevant and necessary, and never have faith-based institutions of higher learning been timelier and more relevant in helping to create the next generation of leaders who enter the workforce and their communities with a sense of personal responsibility for creating a better world.
(*) President, Holy Family University.
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