For decades, the Kentucky Baptist Convention had appointed the board of trustees of Georgetown College—all required to be Southern Baptist—and financially supported the small liberal arts school.
But that arrangement recently ceased as Georgetown decided to forgo convention funding, allow non-Baptists on its board, and expand its fundraising.
In November, the Kentucky convention voted to sever its remaining ties with the college, ending a scholarship program to attract students from the state's Baptist churches.
Its decision came after Georgetown moved away from a statement of specific Baptist identification to one "built on a Baptist foundation" in pursuit of a "knowledge of and commitment to the Christian faith."
But a major new study by the Council on Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) raises questions about what happens when schools with strong denominational ties loosen them.
The three-part study, published in the journal Christian Higher Education, surveyed thousands of faculty members and students at 79 evangelical schools.
According to the study, structural support for denominational identity persists in many evangelical colleges. Church bodies, for example, appoint some or all trustees at 87 percent of the institutions, and 59 percent require at least some faculty (particularly those who teach Bible or theology) to belong to the supporting denomination.
The study found "a general sense of goodwill" toward sponsoring denominations among students and faculty, even as denominational colleges draw fewer students (an average of 41%) from their own ranks.
But students repeatedly indicated a preference for a "more general or generic Christian ...