September 8, 2021
These are troubling times for higher education. With the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest further eroding an already fragile ecosystem, the challenges facing U.S. colleges and universities continue to multiply. In times like these, alliances that help institutions of higher education understand and manage these challenges are more valuable than ever.
The Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU) is one such alliance. The 54 member institutions represent 54 distinct ways of interpreting their historical relationships to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — and that translates into a diverse set of academic, social and spiritual opportunities for the students they serve. The Rev. Dr. John Kuykendall, president emeritus of Davidson College, notes that this diversity reflects the “genius” of the Presbyterian approach to education because each institution is “free to seek its own way” and discover distinct ways to associate faith and learning.
Stretching across the continental U.S. and around the world, APCU schools serve nearly 150,000 students each year. Their shared commitment to making a college education affordable for all who seek it ensures that more than 90% of these students receive grants and scholarships to help offset their educational expenses. This generosity keeps the average cost to attend an APCU school well below $20,000 per year.
This is important when you consider that more than half of the students being served by APCU colleges and universities are the first in their families to attend college. In addition, 36% of the students enrolled at APCU schools are from underrepresented minority groups and nearly half are from lower-income “Pell-eligible” families. This year, six APCU member schools will be classified by the U.S. Department of Education as “majority minority” institutions, meaning that over half of the students being served are students of color.
To help create a rising tide that lifts all 54 of its boats, the APCU offers support in two critical areas: institutional health and spiritual vitality. With regard to institutional health, the APCU has:
- Developed a Peer Advising and Mentoring Network through which APCU presidents are able to work together to evaluate challenges, implement best practices and share success stories.
- Entered into strategic partnerships with a set of respected higher education service providers to offer APCU members exclusive benefits and discounted pricing that support operational effectiveness, enhance student services and increase educational value.
- Worked closely with the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program to bring their respective resources and support to bear on cost containment initiatives, capital improvement projects and socially responsible investment strategies.
With regard to spiritual vitality, the APCU has:
- Integrated the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association into the APCU to ensure that our schools continue to honor the dignity and worth of every person they serve, while emphasizing learning, faith, service and connection to each other, the Church and the world.
- Worked with students, chaplains, congregations and mid councils to develop and implement Matthew 25-related initiatives at nearly two-thirds of our schools.
- Partnered with the Interfaith Youth Core and the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education to advance interfaith understanding/appreciation and enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among the students we serve.
Perhaps most importantly, the APCU has worked closely with the Presbyterian Mission Agency to increase support for Presbyterian college students. This past year, nearly $500,000 in grant and scholarship assistance was awarded to these students — more than triple the amount available just five years ago.
While the 54 schools served by the APCU may differ in significant ways, they remain bound by a shared commitment to learning, faith, service and connectivity. As a result, they strive to educate whole people for the whole world — people who excel in their studies and careers, and desire to use their talents to make a difference in our world.
Grounded in faith and driven by discovery. It’s a timeless Presbyterian theme that’s being developed in 54 different ways with a little help from the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities.
Jeffrey E. Arnold, Executive Director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Higher Education
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Gracious God, we give thanks for all educators who are closing the gap between the promise of humanity and the potential of human beings. Help us to remember these words from the 16th Proverb: It is better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver. We ask this in the name of the one called “teacher.” Amen.