Booming enrollments at evangelical Christian colleges have created one of the sunniest spots in American higher education, recently drawing the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the nation's premier educational newsweekly.

The rapid growth at Christian schools comes at a time when higher education on the whole is preoccupied with bruising battles over ideology and the personal tragedies of wayward students. Accounts of student suicide, binge drinking, drug-connected homicide, rape, and assault are all too familiar headlines each fall as 12 million students at colleges and universities embark on a new school year.

By contrast, evangelical colleges, from an outsider's point of view, seem to be a nostalgic eddy in the mainstream current of American higher education. The enrollments of institutions that belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) account for about 1 percent of the total student body in higher education. But undergraduate enrollments at the 94 CCCU schools have grown 24 percent from 1990 to 1996, more than four times greater than enrollment growth at private institutions.

The recent Chronicle report on Christian colleges was subheadlined: "Students seek to avoid the lifestyles found at many secular institutions." Most Christian colleges do provide an environment conducive to Christian virtues and values. But a recent study by the CCCU indicates the Chronicle chose to focus on the wrong angle. What is most important to most students attending Christian colleges are valuable course content and excellent instruction in their majors and knowledgeable faculty. Indeed, what they are most satisfied with in their Christian college experience is quality academics, not a safe harbor ...

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