Schooled Reporting on education

Solving Christian higher education’s diversity problem

Education | A new scholarship program for Memphis students could offer a model for other minority recruitment efforts
by Leigh Jones
Posted 4/11/18, 04:01 pm

Christian colleges and universities have a diversity problem.

While only about 50 percent of public school students are white, 66 percent of students enrolled in colleges belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities are white. That disparity draws attention to a disconnect between Christian higher education and the nation’s growing ethnic community, said Pete Menjares, a professor at Vanguard University and a senior fellow for diversity at the CCCU.

Menjares works with schools to identify racial and ethnic blind spots and figure out ways to attract and retain minority high school graduates.

“Some believe this is a kingdom imperative,” he said. “They are actively recruiting and are sensitive to campus climate issues. They’re actively engaged in the local community, working with leaders and churches to identify and support students. Others are further behind and still need to be convinced that this needs to be a priority.”

While some Christian universities and seminaries have scholarship programs designed to attract minority students, few are working together to address the problem in a more holistic way. A new effort launched in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination could change that.

As part of MLK50, a joint conference hosted in Memphis, Tenn., last week by The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), 20 Christian universities and seminaries agreed to set aside scholarship funds specifically for Memphis students. The combined effort totaled $1.5 million in financial assistance.

Schools that did not already have a minority outreach program are viewing the Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative as a catalyst, said Brent Leatherwood, director of strategic partnerships for the ERLC.

“It’s almost like a pilot program,” he said. “Schools are interested in taking this to other cities and neighborhoods.”

While the Memphis program offers a small number of scholarships relative to the total enrollment in Christian higher education, the program’s most important and lasting effect could come from provoking replication, Menjares said.

“That’s my hope,” he said. “Every school will think about how they can do something similar. … Individual schools have their own programs, but I can’t think of anything else on this scale.”

The Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative stemmed from conversations between the conference organizers and the Memphis Christian Pastors Network. The local church leaders urged MLK50 organizers to do something that would leave a lasting legacy for the city. Although they didn’t ask for a scholarship fund, the pastors repeatedly mentioned education as one of the community’s most significant needs.

Leatherwood expects several more schools to join the program in the coming weeks. Local pastors will help identify prospective students and encourage them through the application process and eventual transition to college, a continued link to the community that will help ensure the students’ success.

While the scholarships won’t solve all the problems Memphis faces, Leatherwood said he hoped they will serve as a meaningful first step: “We’re not under any illusion that this will change everything. But this is a small step forward toward opening pathways to a quality higher education for some minority students in Memphis.”

The Rev. Rufus Smith, senior minister at Hope Church Memphis and executive chairman of the Memphis Christian Pastors Network, credited the conference organizers with listening to the Christian community’s concerns “after some initial paternalistic missteps.”

“One of those concerns was the optic of appearing in Memphis for two days but leaving without a meaningful milestone to mark its continuous caring,” he said. “What we thought would be five Memphis student scholarships has turned out to be 24 as of yesterday!”

Associated Press/Photo by Sue Ogrocki Associated Press/Photo by Sue Ogrocki Teachers protest outside the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

Teachers still striking

Oklahoma teachers carried their walkout into an eighth day Wednesday, in a push for more education funding. Schools in two of the state’s largest districts closed because so many teachers planned to rally again at the state Capitol. Other districts have remained open despite sporadic teacher absences.

The educational activism continues to spread, with teachers in Arizona announcing Tuesday they are ready to set a date for their own walkout. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has promised teachers a 1 percent raise and $100 million in extra funding this year, but leaders of Arizona Educators United want more. On Wednesday, teachers wore red shirts and staged a “walk-in” at about 1,000 schools throughout the state to call for a 20 percent raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, vowed to veto a $480 million tax increase designed to provide more money for classroom funding. The new taxes on a variety of services would fund a $4,000 per pupil spending boost for schools and restore $254 million in school bus funding Bevin wanted to cut. The governor didn’t seem troubled by the prospect of going toe to toe with angry teachers.

“I did not take this job to make people politically happy,” Bevin said. “Those of you who are parents understand this. Sometimes making the hard decision, putting the sugary cereal back on the shelf, doesn’t make everyone involved in that situation happy. But sometimes it is the right thing to do.”

Lawmakers will consider overriding Bevins’ veto Friday, and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents has urged educators to rally again at the statehouse to show their support. At least one district announced plans to cancel classes. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes The home of David and Louise Turpin in Perris, Calif.

California mulls new homeschool regulations

California lawmakers are preparing another attempt to regulate homeschoolers following one of the worst cases of child abuse in U.S. history. In the weeks after police freed 13 children from their parents in Riverside, one state lawmaker introduced a bill that would require local fire marshals to check registered homeschools at least once a year. The latest bill would establish a committee to propose additional layers of government oversight, including curriculum mandates and teacher certification requirements for parents, as well as health and safety inspections. Homeschool advocates have noted that while David and Louise Turpin used their educational choices to help keep their children hidden, homeschooling is not a risk factor for widespread abuse. But if California lawmakers pass new regulations, they could have a significant effect on educational freedom across the country, warned Mike Smith, president of Home School Legal Defense Association: “What occurs in California has a significant impact on the rest of the nation because of its size and media influence.” —L.J.

Clash of the Titans?

Activist Shane Claiborne and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. are locked in an epic battle of the wills (not to mention theology). Claiborne and his group of liberal, social justice–oriented followers held a revival in Falwell’s backyard last week, and Claiborne asked the conservative evangelical leader to pray with him. He also asked to hold a prayer meeting—not a protest, he was quick to note—on the Liberty campus. No can do, according to the Liberty police department, which sent Claiborne a letter threatening him with arrest if he set foot on school property. Claiborne shared both his letter and Liberty’s response on Twitter with a note citing them as “BREAKING” news. Because what’s an epic battle without an audience? —L.J.

Shooting as sport

The Associated Press takes an interesting look at high school and college shooting clubs, where students say they learn patience and discipline and parents insist they aren’t worried about putting guns into their teenagers’ hands. Amid all the talk about attacks on schools, it’s easy to forget that shooting is an Olympic sport. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Joe M
    Posted: Wed, 04/11/2018 11:05 pm

    "While only about 50 percent of public school students are white, 66 percent of students enrolled in colleges belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities are white."

    "a senior fellow for diversity at the CCCU."

    "Few are working together to address the problem in a more holistic way."

    Oh for heaven's sake. Please don't totally mimick the Gospel Coalition in its chasing after woke Jesus awareness.

    I have taught at Christian schools and at HBCUs.

    Christian schools are doing a good job at diversity efforts. So what if the numbers aren't exact matches with public schools.

    I thought we were about hearts and souls and not numbers. 


  • DCal3000
    Posted: Thu, 04/12/2018 01:30 am

    I have grown much too cynical about Gospel Coalition-affiliated events over the last few years, so perhaps I am a little too cynical in expressing skepticism about the Memphis scholarship initiative.  Minority outreach is a wonderful thing, and the structure of this scholarship outreach seems good in that some of the scholarships appear to be available to Memphis residents of any ethnic group (meaning that any underprivileged student can benefit).  Yet I can't help but worry that the CCCU representative's discussion of racial statistics detracts from a true Gospel focus.  For instance, if there were no statistical discrepancies in the racial composition of Christian colleges as opposed to the general population, would these schools still believe that underprivileged young people in Memphis matter? And, why are these schools focusing on Memphis? It is good that they are trying to have a long-term impact in a suffering city, but would they have chosen Memphis but for the fact a conference that the Gospel Coalition promoted for months was there? Again, I am probably being too cynical, but over the last several years, I have seen Christ-centered attempts at racial reconciliation turn largely into discussions about statistics and sociological terms lifted straight out of secular sociology textbooks (instead of the Bible).  And I have also seen the Gospel Coalition lose focus--become politicized during the 2016 presidential elections then run three articles a few weeks ago on whether football is or is not Christian.  What precisely is the goal of the Coalition? Sometimes, I feel I see a lot of self-promotion and less and less genuine care for laypeople.  Perhaps in a few years, after the work in Memphis has time to bear fruit, my current cynicism will prove to be misguided.  Indeed, I hope it is.  And, I hesitate to make this comment, because I don't want to disparage fellow Christians who may be doing their utmost for the kingdom of Christ.  I cannot imagine the challenges that the Gospel Coalition leaders and their allies face.  I would simply like to hear a little more about Christ's kingdom than I have of late.

  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/12/2018 02:31 pm

    Do they have a "diversity problem" in schools in just about any African country?

    Do they have a "diversity problem" in Central and South American schools?

    Do they have a "diversity problem" in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or other Asian schools?

    This is such irresponsible journalism, written (and encouraged no doubt) by writers and editors who have swallowed the American myth of progressive "cultural diversity."  Only in America is this a "problem."  Last I checked, most, if not all, other nations in the world have no diversity problem, considering that they are probably made up of 99% of natives to the country.

    And if you were really intellectually honest, you would call this article what it is at it's core, which is racist.  If you have to go out of your way to identify something by race, that makes you racist by definition.

    I for one, am beyond sick of the constant barrage by the media at continuing to discuss racial issues that don't need to be discussed.  You open the doors to a school, and accept the applicants that pass the admissions standards and qualifications.  That's it; that's all you need to do.  I don't need to count the number of blacks, whites, hispanics, or anything else.  I don't need to know if you are male or female, or whatever.  All qualified human beings are accepted, PERIOD!  Anything else is just blatant racism.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 04/14/2018 10:57 pm

    PhilipW, I assume that you are a Christian brother.  As such, do you really think that your post represents Christ well?

  • TXfamily
    Posted: Thu, 04/12/2018 03:59 pm

    Would someone please explain to me why "Diversity is our strength" is assumed to be true?  I hear people everywhere parroting this line as if it is some sort of unchallangeable postulate that everyone agrees with.  


    And it's really easy to explain why state schools have more diversity!  They discriminate against white males!  Duh!!  Do we want Christian schools to be color blind and offer a good education that appeals to Bible-believing Christians of any race, or do we want them to join the diversity cult and start being discriminatory?


    Seth, age 18

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 04/13/2018 10:54 pm

    You might want to read the article a little more carefully. The 50% figure was for public schools (elementary and secondary if you follow the link), not public universities. So I really hope there isn't any discrimination against white males as far as who is able to attend public school. (Though yes, our society can be really harsh toward white males at the moment.) Now, white students are probably overrepresented at private schools, as their families are richer on average, but a quick search says that 90% of all US students are in public schools, so 50% is probably still close to the overall average.

    Now, when we look at the percentages in CCCU (which I'm going to assume is representative of Christian colleges overall), and see that 66% are white, this could mean a few different things:

    1. Minority students have more obstacles than white students in attending Christian colleges.

    2. Minority students have less interest than white students in attending Christian colleges.

    3. All of the above.

    Depending on which factor contributes most to the differences, potential solutions might be different, but whichever of these is true, wouldn't it be worthwhile to see if something can be done about it?

    And as far as the benefits of diversity--sure it's way overhyped sometimes, but do you mean to say that you've never benefitted from interacting with people who have had very different life experiences than you? If you haven't, then you really need to get out and meet some more people. Sure, if we only look at outward appearance when we talk about diversity, we're going to get a very superficial kind of diversity that might not do anyone much good. But the fact is that since humans have this thing about grouping eachother into racial and ethnic catagories, people often do end up having rather different life experiences and cultural backgrounds depending on which catagory they were born into.

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Sat, 04/14/2018 12:17 am

    As a follow-up to my earlier comment in this thread, I want to sound a more positive note by commending Leigh Jones for her excellent reporting.  Her work for WORLD Magazine is appreciated.  My earlier post critiqued the Gospel Coalition and the CCCU, and I still find much to critique regarding both organizations.  In other words, my previous post stands.  But I also want to speak about positive contributions to Christian service when I see it.  Ms. Jones and the other writers with WORLD do an amazing job keeping the rest of us informed about the news from a Christian perspective!