This is the season of “academic ratings” — the Academy Awards of higher education as it were. College presidents across the country will watch for their updated position in the latest U.S. News ranking — sometimes because they truly care about it, sometimes just because they know that many of their constituents do. Houghton has stayed just about the same in recent years — respectably placed, along with only a handful of fellow Christian colleges, among the national liberal arts colleges. I doubt if this ranking hurts us, but I am also fairly sure it doesn’t help us, if for no other reason that many peer institutions get more visibility for appearing near the top of their regional rankings.
This year I have actually been more intrigued by a new ranking — the “Best Bang for the Buck Rankings,” a ranking of liberal arts colleges sponsored by the Washington Monthly and based on the “economic value students receive per dollar.” Houghton ranked among the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the country by this measure which emphasizes such percentages as students receiving Pell Grants, graduation rates, and default rates on student loans. Among our sister CCCU colleges and universities, only Wheaton, Eastern Mennonite, and Goshen shared this distinction.
What pleased me most was the percentage of our students receiving Pell Grants — 43 percent to be exact. This means that 43 percent of Houghton students qualify for federal grants—not loans—based on financial need. In a time when affordability matters more than ever to American families, and to Christian families, Houghton is striving to keep a high-quality private residential education within the reach of ordinary families. According to this ranking, we are succeeding, at least with many of those families.
Affordability has been one of Houghton’s core commitments since the 1880s when Willard J. Houghton founded Houghton Seminary for the education of the “poor boys of Allegany County.” In 1937, when our second president James S. Luckey passed away, he was praised for “bringing the advantages of higher education into the lives of ambitious young men and women who seem to be confronted with insurmountable difficulties.” (E. A. Thomas, The Man of the Hour, pp. 92-3). I think my predecessors would share my joy in seeing Houghton in this new ranking!
Even more remarkable than the fact that these students get to Houghton in the first place is the way these students faithfully steward the gift of their education to serve God and their neighbors. They truly embody the “scholar servant” ideal articulated in Houghton’s mission statement — bringing their learning to “lead and labor in a changing world” for the glory of God and the good of their neighbors. I am tempted to name some of our 22,000 alumni who are serving with distinction in higher education, law, medicine, and various ministries in this country and around the world, but let me focus on just four graduates of the Class of 2013. One of our pre-law majors had the choice of attending several of our nation’s reputable law schools. He is beginning this fall at New York University. A pre-med major, daughter of a missionary family, learned this fall that she had been awarded scholarship funding to attend medical school at Ben-Gurion University. One graduate’s summer internship worked out so well at World Vision that she was offered a position. Another graduate had the same experience at Bread for the World.
In a time when our society is, quite appropriately, struggling with issues of “access” to higher education, “affordability,” and the “value question,” (Is a college education really worth it?), Houghton continues to be a channel through which ordinary young men and women can be transformed to make an extraordinary impact on their world in the name of Jesus Christ. That is a mission worth pursuing!
Grace and peace to you today as you “lead and labor” in the places to which God has called you.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976