Jennifer Martin looked forward to attending a Christian college. After graduating from a public high school where she participated in Young Life, Martin sought a refuge from the world where she could be fed spiritually. "I thought it would be like a big summer camp, with everyone jumping up and down about God every day." Martin, a scholarship recipient, selected Eastern College in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania, largely because of its proximity to her home in Willow Grove.

But anticipation quickly turned to disillusionment. Four months into her first year, Martin seriously considered leaving. "I was feeling very disconnected at Eastern," she says. "I wasn't feeling I had found a niche." Martin is one of many Christian college students who contemplate leaving school. Research shows more Christian college students drop out before graduation than students at comparable private colleges: 47 percent of first-year Christian college students stay through graduation, compared to 53 percent at other private institutions.

Student retention is a worsening national problem at both private and public institutions, with rates declining 1 to 2 percent a year, according to Eastern College psychology professor Laurie Schreiner, director of the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) Quality/ Retention Project. "Students are much more likely to shop around, to vote with their feet," she says.

Christian college students see themselves as consumers, Schreiner says, and will transfer to a public school or drop out altogether before considering another Christian college if they are unhappy with the product.

Some Christian colleges have been slow to recognize retention as a problem, relying instead on recruitment efforts to increase enrollments. ...

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