Dr. Andrea Ramirez, Executive Director of the Faith and Education Coalition, recently interviewed Dr. Shirley Hoogstra, President of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Before CCCU, Dr. Hoogstra served as Vice President of Student Life at Calvin College for 15 years and as partner in a law firm for 13 years. She is a graduate of Calvin College and The University of Connecticut School of Law.

For more and more Latino families in America, higher education has become essential for career preparation.

Dr. Hoogstra, what wisdom can you share with students debating where to apply for college? Why should they consider applying to Christian colleges and universities?

First of all, let me say I'm a proud graduate of Christian higher education. And my children are graduates of Christian higher education. So my perspective includes both personal and professional experience with these institutions.

The number one reason I recommend Christian higher education is that the academics are excellent. You don't get a second rate experience by going to a Christian institution. A second major benefit is the faith and character development for young people. My husband and I wanted to raise our children up in the Lord. We knew that that the years between 18 and 22 would be really important for shaping their character and deepening their faith. Faculty and staff who view the world through a Christian lens would become role models for them on a Christian campus. And a Christian college was more likely to offer a peer group of fellow students committed to growing their faith.

I agree wholeheartedly. I experienced both of those blessings on the campus of Dallas Baptist University – academic excellence in a supportive Chris-centered community.

There’s another challenge many Hispanic students face, especially those who are the first in their family to pursue higher education. They may have a family job waiting for them after high school, or some other work opportunity available with appealing benefits. So if parents are wondering if a college education will be worth the time and effort, what would you tell them?

That is a very important question. My dad was a hardware retailer, and he spent almost all his career in that sweet spot. Yet at the very end, when he neared 60, hardware stores were fighting big box stores for survival. His business was decreasing. The world was changing. He had to find a new occupation.

Technology and globalization have changed our economy, creating an enormous shift in job longevity. Instead of holding perhaps two jobs over your lifetime, as my father did, people hold seven jobs, perhaps even seven different careers over their lifetime! So how do today’s young people prepare for this economic shift? Young adults entering the workplace must be well read, able to write clearly, speak effectively, and think critically. They must be adaptable and understand the basics of a digital world. A college education can give them a powerful advantage.

Here’s another important statistic: college graduates, over their lifetime will earn one million dollars more than those without a college degree. One million dollars of additional income means more funds to contribute to retirement, more funds for charitable giving, more that they can contribute to their communities and churches. If students take a long view, they’ll see how college offers a great return on initial investment.

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As we mentioned earlier, many Hispanic students today will be the first in their families to attend college. The application process itself may be overwhelming, but there may also be surprise or “sticker shock” in response to the price of tuition. Should students apply to only the schools that appear affordable?

The range in tuition rates is enormous. Community colleges and state schools are generally the least expensive option. The next tier is Christian private education, followed by other private colleges and universities which are generally the most expensive.

But there’s good news: extensive financial aid options are available at both religious and general private colleges. For some students this will bring the actual cost must closer to the level of state schools. Private Christian colleges offer both merit-based aid and need-based aid, so the cost of a year of college can be thousands less than published rates or rates you may see in a brochure.

Don’t let college tuition rates keep you from applying to the Christian school of your choice! Send your application, then let admissions counselors and financial aid counselors explain what is available to help your child succeed.

You mentioned merit-based aid and need-based aid. Can you define those terms for readers?

Yes, let’s look at need-based aid first. Private colleges have alumni and donors who are deeply committed toward helping the next generation access a quality educational experience. Those donors contribute millions of dollars to make funding available for those with the greatest financial needs. Once a student applies, the financial aid team on campus can examine a student’s financial situation to determine what funding is available.

Merit-based aid is available for students exhibiting exceptional academic scores, leadership, or some other set of specific traits. This type of aid is awarded to convince the type of student the institution most desires to have on their campus. Many schools are eager to bring more ethnic diversity to their campuses and are offering merit-based aid for prospective Hispanic students.

Between need-based and merit-based opportunities, a student can build a package of financial aid that drastically reduces the cost of attending a private university.

Do Christian colleges offer merit-based scholarships available for ministry leaders in local churches?

Absolutely. Young men and women who are making a difference in their high school communities need to apply to Christian colleges! Submit that application. List everything they have done to contribute to their communities. These kinds of students will really succeed in private Christian higher education.

Most Christian colleges use something called the Common App, and it's just five questions. You submit that form. The college will respond positively and they will invite you for a campus visit. I encourage every parent, every grandparent, every aunt, uncle and cousin who is shepherding a young person, to make that campus visit. Sometimes they even have funds to help you make that first visit. And some schools have a pre-program for the summer, allowing seniors and juniors in high school to earn college credit as they get an in-depth look.

Visiting the school also allows you to visualize your student on that specific campus. If your child or grandchild enrolls at a public university with 40,000 other students, how will they be known? But if he or she enrolls at a smaller campus, with 2,000 to 8,000 students, there’s a chance to really stand out. When class sizes are smaller, professors get to know your student’s interests and abilities.

You mentioned possible funding available for college visits. Many aren’t aware that many schools offer to cover expenses so a student can visit the campus and learn more about the college. What is the best route for asking about that option?

Keep in mind that colleges want your Hispanic student on their campus! And a campus visit can help with that decision-making process. As soon as an application is submitted, your student will be assigned an admissions counselor. You can ask that person all kinds of questions, such as:

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  • “Is there financial assistance to help students to visit your campus?”

  • “Our student is really interested. Can you set up an appointment for me with your Diversity Office? I would like to know who's going to be part of those support groups.”

  • “We'd like to have a meeting with a faculty member because our student is specifically interested in this area of study (i.e. engineering).”

  • “Our student is a pre-med student. What's your graduation admittance rate into medical school (or law school or graduate school)?””

  • “How many of your students get internships? I'd like to speak with those people when I come for a visit.”

  • What careers do your graduates begin?

In summary, don’t assume a private Christian education isn’t affordable. Put in your application, talk to an admissions counselor to find out what financial aid is available. And visit the campus while your student is still in high school – there may even be funding available for that first visit.

[ This article is also available in español. ]