I sometimes wonder whether my alma mater, the top evangelical college in the country, would consider me a successful graduate. I’m gainfully employed and satisfied with my life, but I no longer consider myself an evangelical Christian. I’m happy with my Wheaton College education, but would Wheaton be happy with me if it could look into my heart? Would prospective students and their parents be scared off by my story?
Christian higher education is big business. About 9 percent of American college students were enrolled in some kind of religious institution as of 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And while many historically Christian colleges have all but abandoned their religious roots, the smaller group of “intentionally Christ-centered” institutions that belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities currently enroll 400,000 students and counting; another 750,000 students are enrolled at Catholic institutions.
College rankings are big business, too, of course. And even much-criticized lists like U.S. News & World Report’s matter to prospective students more than they used to: A survey published last month by the consulting firm Art & Science found that two-thirds of college-bound students took rankings into consideration when choosing a school. As recently as 2002, only one-fifth of prospective students said they had even read any such lists. Despite the hand-wringing over their effect on college costs and over-inflated application pools, rankings are here to stay.