Is There a Value to Catholic Higher Education?

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(Courtesy of US

Catholic School Children

It’s “back-to-school” time around the country.  Teachers have planned curricula, students have gotten their school supplies, and we once again will attempt to provide a sound education to our youth.

Much of the U.S. education system, particularly at the college and university level, is now tailored to the needs of the market, providing students with the necessary education and training to be competitive in a globalizing work environment. Areas such as math, science, and business are highlighted and professions such as nursing, medical school, business school, and law school rather than students as opposed to the liberal arts and humanities are sought by many students.

In many ways, this is a good thing.  For the students who have been provided the privilege of attending college, their education should prepare them to get jobs after graduation.

But is that all there is?  If the primary goal of higher education is to fulfill the needs of the market, is there a value to Catholic higher education?

My answer is an unequivocal “yes” because a distinctively Catholic vision of higher education promotes the integration of religion and theology into everyday life.  One of the most important things that a Catholic university (or high school, for that matter) can instill in a young person is the realization that there is no true separation between religious and secular, sacred and profane.  All creation is engraced and good, and thus God’s presence and Spirit are everywhere and available at all times. The understanding that grace is already and always present is a refreshing correction to a worldview that sees a rigid border between the religious and the secular.

Now, this is not a political statement.  It has nothing to do with the separation of church and state (which I think is a good thing).  It is a theological statement.  It is an opening of one’s eyes to the engraced nature of all created things, despite their being marred through human sinfulness.  This is akin to the Jesuit motto, “finding God in all things.”  It is an important discipline and mode of thinking to be fostered in young minds.

This is a unique worldview tied up within the vision and identity of Catholic higher education.  Such a view naturally leads to a call to work for justice, peace, and prosperity for all within society.  It is one of the great contributions of Catholic higher education.


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