Sister Mary Reap: Proven impact of Catholic colleges



As the cost of college attendance becomes a larger expense for families, some have begun to question whether the cost of attending college is worth the value promised. Legislators as well as families seek answers to this question. In order to be accountable, colleges have become more diligent about assessing their effect on not only success with job placement and earning power, but also on graduate school acceptances and overall contributions to society for their graduates.

In addition to assessment in these areas, faith-based colleges also engage in assessing their efforts in student faith and spiritual formation as well. The findings are encouraging.

For example, a study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, at Georgetown University finds that Catholic students at Catholic colleges are less likely than Catholic students at other colleges to move away from the church and more likely to turn toward it. Further, the study finds that the Catholic students at Catholic colleges -- while moving away from the church on some issues -- move more toward the church on others, such as the reading of sacred texts. Overall, the study finds that Catholic students "remain profoundly connected to their faith" as they progress in college.

Other researchers have devoted growing attention to the related subject of Catholic mission, in terms of assessing both "ways that mission is communicated to students, faculty, and staff and ways to measure progress toward mission," observes Mark Gunty, chair of the board of directors of the Catholic Higher Education Research Cooperative.

Additional research is focusing on how leadership in Catholic institutions has been evolving, how Catholic institutions have adapted to changing needs for higher education, and on curricular or institutional strategies that enhance mission and identity.

As newly minted college graduates begin the competitive job interview process and eventually enter the job market, many wonder about the overall contribution they can make to society as a whole. Also, they think business can do much more to address society’s challenges in the areas of most concern:

A survey of Millennials (born January 1983 onwards), conducted globally by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited provides some fascinating insights. Millennials believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a focus on improving society among the most important things it should seek to achieve. Millennials are also charitable and interested to participate in ‘public life:’ 63 percent of Millennials gave to charities, and 43 percent actively volunteered or were a member of a community group.

Catholic colleges help prepare students for lives of service by providing a well-rounded education based on such values as conscience, charity, compassion, and integrity. These values are integrated into all disciplines -- perhaps manifesting themselves most profoundly in the humanities -- which in turn serve as the bedrock for fostering intellectual and personal growth. Ultimately the humanities serve as the foundation for understanding the arts and sciences as well as business and industry.

As part of the Catholic College Consortium, the College of Our Lady of the Elms has participated in a national survey, the Mission Perception Inventory, over the last six years with 26 other Catholic schools. It is gratifying to know that our seniors have scored above the mean on the categories measured by the Inventory. Some of these categories include:

* Social and personal development of students is an important part of the mission at this institution.

* Ethical and spiritual development of student is an important part of the mission at this institution.

* This institution offers options for volunteering and community service.

* The professors at this institution discuss the ethical implications of what is being studied.

* The faculty, staff, and students here are respectful of people of different races and cultures.

Pope Francis referred to the goal of Catholic education as being transformation of the heart. While impossible to measure by any single instrument, findings do suggest that Catholic colleges are having a positive impact on the spiritual and faith development of our students. It is difficult to place a price on such a value.

Sister Mary Reap, IHM, is president of Elms College.


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