How do we make higher education accessible to more people? Bringing his expertise in higher education to the table, Rick Ostrander converses with John Terrill about accessibility issues in Christian higher ed and compares payment models of Private and Public institutions. Ostrander currently serves as assistant to the president for academic innovation at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

Learn about Rick Ostrander & Westmont College

Read Rick’s Book: Why College Matters to God: A Student’s Introduction to The Christian College Experience

With Faith in Mind is produced at Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin and hosted by Director of University Engagement Dan Hummel and Executive Director John Terrill. Jesse Koopman is the Executive Producer. Upper House is an initiative of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation.

Please reach out to us with comments or questions at podcast@slbrownfoundation.org. We’d love to hear from you.

Transcript

00;00;06;13 - 00;00;31;08

Speaker 1

Welcome to the With Faith and Mind podcast. I'm John Terrill, today's host and executive director of Upper House and the Steven Laurel Brown Foundation. Today we're exploring the topic of Christian college accessibility and affordability. It's part of our series on Christian education at the Crossroads. And in this episode, we welcome Rick Ostrander to the show. And I am so delighted to welcome you, Rick.

00;00;31;09 - 00;00;31;21

Speaker 1

Welcome.

00;00;32;03 - 00;00;33;26

Speaker 2

Great. Thanks, John. It's great to be here.

00;00;34;11 - 00;00;51;17

Speaker 1

Well, it is good to have you here. Let me just hit a couple points of your bio, which I think are super interesting. Currently, you serve as executive director of Westmont downtown, but I think you have a more official title, which is assistant to the President for Global Education, Innovation and Program Development. Did I get that right?

00;00;52;19 - 00;00;58;19

Speaker 2

You did. It's one of the longer titles I've had in my career. I try to summarize that on a business card, but I think.

00;00;59;04 - 00;01;21;15

Speaker 1

Okay, I see where you go with West. My executive director was my dad town and that's exciting. We might get into some of that. I think that's a really cool project out there. And Westmont College is really one of our premier Christian colleges, so, you know, we're talking to someone who is, you know, as a is at a place that's really leading in Christian higher education.

00;01;21;29 - 00;01;42;23

Speaker 1

Rick, you also served as vice president for research and scholarship for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. You were the provost of Cornerstone University, and before that you were the dean of undergraduate studies and associate professor at John Brown University. So you have moved around the country and have played a number of roles in Christian colleges and universities.

00;01;44;27 - 00;02;04;26

Speaker 2

Yeah. Ironically, my my own undergraduate background was at a public university. We may get into that later. But yeah, most of my career has really been in private Christian higher education at a few different institutions and also at what we call the Home Office in Washington, D.C. for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

00;02;05;03 - 00;02;23;28

Speaker 1

Yeah, and your background is so interesting, and that's why we thought you'd be just a fantastic guest for the show, particularly to give us a broad landscape of Christian education because you've served in so many different roles and were in so many different hats. And yes, you did go to a public university that's having quite a football year.

00;02;23;28 - 00;02;25;01

Speaker 1

University of Michigan.

00;02;27;21 - 00;02;36;19

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's my favorite topic this fall of Michigan football. I'm all right. The favorite is Christian higher education. But, you know, if we run out of material, we can always get into the maze of blue. I'm happy to be.

00;02;36;19 - 00;02;52;21

Speaker 1

Okay. Well, I wanted to give you an opening there, so I've given the opening. I think you started first at Moody Bible Institute and then transfer to University of Michigan. Is that right? I did. Okay, So you had a little Christian college experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan and then your PhD in history at Notre Dame.

00;02;52;22 - 00;02;55;01

Speaker 1

I think you studied under George Marston, is that correct?

00;02;56;18 - 00;03;01;02

Speaker 2

That's correct, yes. I've had a variety of experiences as a student as well.

00;03;01;04 - 00;03;22;28

Speaker 1

And I know you're an avid road biker and and I know you also from this phase of your life, you're involved in starting a new Christian studies center at the University of Michigan. And so Upper House and some of us have been involved with you a bit as you have formed that team and are starting to launch that really important work at University of Michigan.

00;03;25;20 - 00;03;55;22

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's been really exciting to see that that move forward and to take, as I see it, kind of some of the best aspects of Christian colleges and universities and and transplant them or promote them in a in a flagship university such as Michigan, of course, Wisconsin is a great university to an upper house. So we're really in some ways looking at what you've been able to accomplish there and hope to to replicate some of that at Michigan as well.

00;03;55;26 - 00;04;20;28

Speaker 1

Yeah, great. Well, we're really excited about that, that work that's forming and has already formed at University of Michigan. So congratulations on that. So let's get into it. I think it'll become obvious and maybe it is somewhat obvious just reading your background, but but Rick, where did your personal interest in Christian higher education begin? And then how has it evolved over your life?

00;04;23;15 - 00;04;48;10

Speaker 2

Yeah, yeah. I'll try to stay brief on that, answering that question. So my father worked at Moody Bible Institute for about 35 years, so I grew up in the Chicago area, actually lived out near Wheaton, went to Bible or went to basketball camp as a kid, Wheaton College on their campus. But so my initial experience was at Moody Bible Institute, went from there to the University of Michigan.

00;04;48;22 - 00;05;38;07

Speaker 2

And while I had a great experience at both, I really had very few resources for how to connect my Christian faith with what I was learning. So I had a strong bi biblical theological education at Moody, went to Michigan in many ways, a very secular education, although a good one as well. But what I found when I moved into Notre Dame for graduate school and working with my mentor, George Morrison, and then later in the Christian college world, was institutions that really seek to bring the hard in the mind together, bring biblical, theological knowledge together with whatever subject you might be studying, whether it's chemistry or sociology or what have you.

00;05;38;07 - 00;06;06;02

Speaker 2

So it's this blending of faith and learning that really attracted me to Christian higher education. And so that led initially to a position as a faculty member at John Brown University and later into administration. So that to me is really the the the kernel, the the gist of Christian higher education. There are a lot of other aspects, you know, apples, Bible studies, maybe mission trips, all the things that colleges do.

00;06;06;02 - 00;06;31;20

Speaker 2

But it's the what happens in that classroom, the connecting of faith and learning that I think is so valuable. How has that changed over over the decades? I think I still value that primarily. I think my interaction with that has moved from being kind of a faculty member in the classroom and one on one with students to thinking more holistically.

00;06;31;20 - 00;07;05;11

Speaker 2

First about institutions when I was a provost at Cornerstone, but then later at the Council for Christian Colleges Universities, thinking about the movement as a whole and how can we ensure sustainability and healthier movement for Christian colleges and universities in general, given the challenges that that these institutions face? And we might get into that later? Yeah. So I've always been an advocate for this connection of faith and learning and Christian academic community, and I hope that these institutions can continue to thrive.

00;07;06;12 - 00;07;15;14

Speaker 1

Yeah, I do want to go right into the challenges, but I also know you and Lani, your wife Lani, you have four children and all four attended Christian colleges. Is that correct?

00;07;17;19 - 00;07;44;08

Speaker 2

That's correct. Our oldest attended Messiah. At the time it was Messiah College, known as Messiah University in Pennsylvania, or the son attended Gordon College and then later Point Loma Nazarene University with a daughter who was a dancer, a dance major at Anderson University in Indiana. And then our youngest attended the university. So yeah, my experience with with Christian colleges universities is both at a professional level, but also as a parent.

00;07;44;08 - 00;08;03;16

Speaker 1

Yeah, I think that offers helps to bring a really unique perspective that you bring both angles to bear on this topic. Well, Rick, you started to mention the challenges, and I want to ask you more directly about that. From your perspective, what are the challenges that Christian colleges and universities are facing these days?

00;08;06;06 - 00;08;39;15

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's an important question. I would identify two main challenges that they face. One, I will start with, I guess the practical, pragmatic challenge is the the market for private higher education in general, if you will, is has been shrinking over the past decade or two. Some of that stems from demographic trends. A lot of these schools were started in the upper in the Northeast and in the Midwest, and the population has tended to shift to the west in the South.

00;08;39;27 - 00;09;10;00

Speaker 2

So if you look at just the basic number of high school graduates in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, they're either static or in decline. And so that just creates some basic market challenges for these sorts of institutions. In addition, another practical challenge is that our culture has become, as I would describe it, more consumer consumer oriented when it comes to higher education.

00;09;10;23 - 00;09;41;18

Speaker 2

And this can be documented in surveys that have been done over the years, whereas a few decades ago students primarily went to a college or university in order to to develop their own personal philosophy of life or to, you know, to become and to get in touch with with deeper values and self understanding. The primary reason for attending institutions today is what you could call career preparation or professional development.

00;09;42;04 - 00;10;27;06

Speaker 2

And so schools such as the Wheaton's, the West months of the World that really focus on liberal arts general education have a in some cases a more difficult time making that argument for attending this sort of institution because of that consumerist mentality. So those are some challenges that private institutions face overall. In addition to that, I would say Christian colleges, universities at times have faced a cultural, I guess you could call the cultural or the political challenge of questions of whether faith based institutions should either one be fully accredited like non faith based institutions.

00;10;27;06 - 00;10;58;21

Speaker 2

There has been in some circles of of higher education in general, some, I guess you could call a secularist bias against faith based higher education or questions about access to federal funding or state funding for private faith based institutions. And so in some ways, those challenges ebb and flow depending on the political winds that are blowing right now, those challenges are probably less of a concern than they have been at other times.

00;10;58;21 - 00;11;15;06

Speaker 2

But I do anticipate that those challenge challenges will increase again at some point in the future. So there's both the practical challenges, but also the cultural challenges of being a primary, early Christian based institution.

00;11;15;28 - 00;11;40;02

Speaker 1

Rick, I wonder if you could say a little bit more about the excuse me a little bit more about the demographic challenges, just, you know, with the the demographic cliff and and some of these kinds of things that are out there that that are are real. And we're just now starting to realize these. And, you know, they're affecting all colleges and universities, but maybe disproportionately Christian colleges and universities.

00;11;42;27 - 00;12;06;20

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's a real there have been a lot of books that have been written in the past decade on that topic. They get discussed a lot of the academic conferences. I was at a conference, oh, just a few weeks ago for what's called the Council for Council of Independent Colleges. It's a large umbrella organization of about 700 private colleges and universities.

00;12;07;01 - 00;12;46;21

Speaker 2

And as they often do, you know, the opening plenary session, there's a a question or they have people identify themselves by what state their institution is in. And so when they ask for attendees from a state such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, there's so many attendees who are standing up and representing colleges from those states. The reality is, however, that as you look at the, you know, the overall American population, it's states such as Texas, you know, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, where I've met that see growing populations of high school students.

00;12;47;10 - 00;13;12;11

Speaker 2

The challenges, as most people in shopping for a college or university are looking locally within, say, 100 miles of their their own and their own location. And so this has created a real challenge for the private colleges and universities, as I said before, that are primarily in the Midwest and the Northeast. And how that affects Christian colleges specifically.

00;13;13;07 - 00;13;45;17

Speaker 2

There's another aspect to throw in here in that many of these schools are denominational based. And if you know anything about trends within American religion, there's one been a decline of just self-identifying Christians in general, but especially those who identify with a particular denomination. So, for example, I lived in West Michigan for for 12 years and had a lot of good friends and colleagues at Calvin University, which is one of the flagship Christian reform institutions in West Michigan.

00;13;46;05 - 00;14;15;06

Speaker 2

They're their feeder denomination. However, the Christian Reformed Church has been declining in numbers, and so they've been forced to to find other pockets of student prospective of students, both here in the US, but also internationally. And those sorts of challenges are affecting a lot of schools that have a denominational identity and historic. We have been tapping those denominations for a primary source of their student population.

00;14;16;00 - 00;14;44;23

Speaker 1

So that's interesting. And it's new to me that students would prefer to attend and families would prefer for their children to attend private colleges and universities that are within 100 miles. I would I would think there'd be more openness given that you're going to pay a private rate anyway, so you're not going to have state subsidized tuition like you would at a public university so that there really is something to the location of these Christian colleges and universities.

00;14;44;23 - 00;14;52;16

Speaker 1

It really does make a difference in the fact that many are in the Midwest where you don't have rising high school populations is a real problem.

00;14;55;09 - 00;15;23;22

Speaker 2

That's correct. This has been a significant trend over the past decade or two of of fewer students really looking nationally or beyond their own region or prospective institutions within the Christian college market. I think there really are a handful of students or students, sorry, schools that recruit a national student body. We would be one Baylor, Pepperdine, Westmont We do to some extent.

00;15;23;22 - 00;15;33;18

Speaker 2

Gordon College. Most of Christian colleges tend to recruit regionally. And so if they're whatever happens in their particular region is going to have a big impact on their enrollment.

00;15;33;24 - 00;15;58;25

Speaker 1

Yeah, well, let's get into issues of access and affordability. And you laid this out, I think, in your in your kind of opening statement or your opening thought about just the economic formula that has been implemented so predominantly around how people are making choices around college. But but why are these issues so important for Christian higher education?

00;16;02;22 - 00;16;29;16

Speaker 2

Yeah, there yeah the really important because well for a variety of reasons one well it is the case that Christian colleges in some sense compete against each other for students if you will are let's take, you know, the Chicago area, for example. A lot of Christian colleges are Trinity Christian College and there's already International University 30 miles apart.

00;16;29;16 - 00;16;54;04

Speaker 2

There's Wheaton College, there's Judson, there's North Park. I won't keep going because I'll forget a school and then I might get in trouble later. But, you know, so there is a lot of competition among Christian colleges. But generally speaking, the typical Christian colleges is they lose more students to a regional public university than they do to other private institutions.

00;16;54;20 - 00;17;29;20

Speaker 2

And so what that means is obviously cost is a huge factor driving choice of of an academic institution. And if, you know, if as a private institution, you cannot at least be in the same ballpark financially of that local regional university, it's going to be a challenge in in being able to recruit students and and be sustainable. So, you know, the cost factor isn't simply one between other competing private colleges and universities.

00;17;30;00 - 00;17;46;24

Speaker 2

It's really the question of how how can we how can our sticker price not create so much shock that they don't even apply in the first place or get in the conversation and go to West Michigan or University of Illinois instead?

00;17;47;19 - 00;18;12;02

Speaker 1

Yeah, Rick, and I've often wondered about that. There are these discount rates. So you have kind of the the sticker price for private education. Christian College would have its posted public tuition rate and then you have kind of these rebates or discount rates. How does that work? If I'm a student trying to or a parent trying to understand that, what am I looking for?

00;18;12;03 - 00;18;16;21

Speaker 1

Like, can you help me decipher what I would actually pay?

00;18;19;18 - 00;18;56;22

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's now we're into the Byzantine world of finance and college shopping. Yeah, it can be true. And I get this as a parent, as well as an administrator, that this can be challenging of determining the reality is very few students actually pay that sticker price that that is advertised for a college. There is both. And we don't need to go too far in the weeds, but there is both, you know, government funded aid, whether that's loans or outright grants, both at the state level and the federal level.

00;18;57;04 - 00;19;20;14

Speaker 2

But then institutions themselves have what they call unfunded discount, which is basically just how much they're willing to take off of that sticker price in order to attract and recruit students. The reality is, if you look at the national rates for and I'm talking private colleges and in universities in general, not just Christian, but the numbers are similar.

00;19;21;28 - 00;20;09;08

Speaker 2

The average discount rate for first year students at private institutions is over 50%. So what that means is that sticker price of, say, $40,000. The reality is it's it's $20,000 on average. And there are a lot of other factors involved in determining what that amount is. So a few things as far as what that means. One is that despite some news in the media about the student debt crisis that you get that often may be in the news, the average college graduate has around $30,000 in total student loans, which it's a lot of money, but that's about the cost of a new car nowadays.

00;20;09;19 - 00;20;35;28

Speaker 2

And if you think about the financial benefits long term of having a college degree, that $30,000 is by no means insurmountable. So there's a lot of misperception as far as and there's a few, you know, kind of stories, too, that get promoted about, you know, some particular examples of a student who graduates from with the you know, from a school of cosmetology with $80,000 in loans or something like that.

00;20;36;15 - 00;21;14;26

Speaker 2

But the reality is that the student debt is generally about $30,000 when they graduate. The other thing to keep in mind here, which you alluded to earlier, is just that the the difficulty of determining. So what actually is that net price that I'm going to pay? Interestingly, I just read this morning and I think it was the Chronicle of Higher Education, a task force, a national task force to attempt to clarify how aid is given and create more transparency for institutions.

00;21;14;26 - 00;21;36;04

Speaker 2

And in announcing aid. So there's a recognition that this is a problem. I would say most schools have made good progress in this. I'll just use my own Westmont Colleges, an example. If you go, you know, if you're a prospective student, if you're a parent, a student, you go to Westmont website, you there's a lot of information about what aid is available.

00;21;36;04 - 00;22;01;27

Speaker 2

But even a chart that shows, you know, based on what your high school GPA is and what your SAT scores are, plug those numbers in and you can look at essentially what amount of institutional aid you're going to receive from Westmont based on those scores. So there's there have been, I would say even compared to five or ten years ago when we were looking at schools for our for our kids.

00;22;02;01 - 00;22;11;12

Speaker 2

The process has become clearer and institutions are really making an effort to provide more clarity and what that actual cost is for students.

00;22;12;00 - 00;22;40;12

Speaker 1

I know there's been some high profile Christian colleges and universities that have put a freeze on tuition or have reduced tuition dramatically. Is that a real cut or is it a bit of real cut and bells and whistles around? I don't I didn't want to say smoke and mirrors, but, you know, is it is it kind of, you know, being more authentic with the actual discounted net price?

00;22;40;26 - 00;22;55;26

Speaker 1

And so it looks like a tuition reduction, but actually it's it's more of a transparent cost. What's going on there? Because I know I know that's getting really competitive and a lot of Christian colleges and universities are are trying to to make their mark in this area.

00;22;57;18 - 00;23;26;07

Speaker 2

Yeah you're you're exactly right there. So what schools will occasionally do and but every year there are a few examples of this is do you know announced a significant reduction in their sticker price. But then part of that is it also may not be announce a reduction in their discount rate. And so you're right, it's really a matter of of trying to be more transparent in what the actual price will be.

00;23;26;07 - 00;23;53;04

Speaker 2

And the fact is that people jump to conclusions or have a first impression about what that sticker price is. That can help kind of get people in the conversation for those schools. The problem is and the reason why you don't see this happening very much or schools will do it and then kind of revert back to the norm in a few years is by doing so that that school is is the best way to describe this.

00;23;54;08 - 00;24;33;23

Speaker 2

They're the they have less flexibility in how to actually package aid to attract the students that they're trying to attract. In other words, if you have a high sticker price but also a 50% discount rate, that means you have more institutional discretion in how you package scholarships for particular students to attract those students to your institution. If you lower your price, but also lower your discount, then there's just there's less flexibility on the institution side to work with parents and students and try to create or package them in a way that will attract them to the institution.

00;24;34;01 - 00;24;57;16

Speaker 2

You mentioned before, and I enjoy road biking. If you ever follow the Tour de France running your bike race, which is called the Peloton, which is the mass of riders that are riding together because that when resistance and all that, but occasionally throughout a race, you'll see someone what they call go off the front and maybe one or two and try to get away from the peloton and they'll do it for a while.

00;24;57;16 - 00;25;20;22

Speaker 2

And they basically eventually the peloton kind of swallows them up again. And that tends to be what happens when in this kind of pricing game. With that, with colleges, you'll see schools occasionally make a big splash and announce that they're slashing tuition. And then after a few years, they kind of revert to the main because that's just kind of the in our system today.

00;25;20;22 - 00;25;22;13

Speaker 2

It's it's the way that the business is done.

00;25;22;18 - 00;25;58;25

Speaker 1

Interesting. Well, we've talked a lot about the affordability issue, and this has been really insightful. Your comments are super insightful. What about some of the other access issues? What what you know, as a administrator, what are the other kinds of issues that you've worked on or that are important to the institution to to ensure ensure that students of all types have access, have have the capacity to to consider a Christian college is a real option.

00;25;59;29 - 00;26;06;14

Speaker 1

In your mind, what are the most salient access issues that surface working with students or families?

00;26;09;00 - 00;26;47;01

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's a great question. And the first the most salient issue in terms of access is just getting students to the institution in the first place, making it possible for students, especially from historically underrepresented groups, to actually attend that institution. Christian colleges have made a lot of progress in this area in the last decade or two. Even my own institution, which is perceived as a very traditional, selective liberal arts college this year we have over 20% of our incoming class is from a Hispanic background.

00;26;47;01 - 00;27;49;14

Speaker 2

We are pretty close to achieving what's called HSA status, Hispanic serving, as I said, a sorry, Hispanic serving institutions, which includes some federal funding benefits as well. And that's that's just one example. A lot of our schools, I think, have have improved when it comes to racial diversity and attracting underrepresented groups the way they've done so. One is through simply being intentional about scholarship being and making it possible financially for for students to attend, either through what's called an unfunded discount or simply marking down the sticker price or identifying donors who are committed to this issue, who are willing to supplement those scholarships for students from from certain backgrounds and groups, first generation students as

00;27;49;14 - 00;28;25;16

Speaker 2

well. So that's been a a big improvement there. Another way that they've improved in this area is simply making the campuses more welcoming and friendly to students from a wide range, from a different variety of backgrounds, so that students that African-American student attends a college in Iowa going to be kind of using some generalities here, but that they will actually, you know, be walking in and feel comfortable in that environment because of some changes that the institution has made.

00;28;25;16 - 00;28;47;09

Speaker 2

So there have been some, I think, some significant improvements there. So that's all about what kind of access to the institution in the first place, ensuring that those students stay and, as I said, feel at home, but also succeed in that institution. That's that's a that's another issue that that we can speak to and maybe discuss as well.

00;28;47;19 - 00;29;16;08

Speaker 1

Yeah, that's that's really interesting to me. I've seen, you know, there's a lot of emphasis even in a place like University of Wisconsin, to to not only welcome students to broaden the applicant pool, but then to ensure that students flourish while they're here. And and I know first generation college students, I mean, that that opens up possibilities and begins to to shift the demographic trajectory a bit.

00;29;16;08 - 00;29;55;16

Speaker 1

If you can begin to open up the university and college world to students and families who have might not consider it or haven't considered it in the past, it hasn't been a part of their own history. I wonder if you could point to some really innovative examples both on and you did this a little bit with Westmont, your own institution, but but from your perspective, you know, working across Christian higher education, where have you seen some really interesting examples of of kind of opening up the applicant pool and and broadening the kinds of students that feel welcome and are able to matriculate.

00;29;55;16 - 00;30;03;06

Speaker 1

And then I want to shift into some of the creative things you're seeing to ensure that students thrive and stay in school and graduate.

00;30;05;22 - 00;30;06;15

Speaker 2

Right. Okay.

00;30;09;20 - 00;30;44;10

Speaker 2

So I think there are, well, two general areas where I've seen institutions be creative in opening of access to to a greater variety of students. One would be and I should mention where we're talking about kind of a four year undergraduate education right now. There's the whole obviously booming area of adult education, degree completion that has historically always displayed more diversity than than four year undergraduate institutions.

00;30;45;05 - 00;31;30;26

Speaker 2

But I will say, and this is one less I think we've kind of learned from the adult education side of things is to be more adaptable in terms of online education, to open up our our institutions to a greater variety of students. And so and that's been selected a certain institutions. But generally speaking, online education has enabled schools to, for one, address the affordability issue of, you know, maybe the students can spend their first year at home taking courses online for an institution and then come for the final three or two years, which makes the total cost of their college degree less.

00;31;31;12 - 00;31;57;13

Speaker 2

I know George Fox University up in Oregon has extensively expanded their online offerings when it comes to their their general education program so that students, which are primarily usually completed in the first one or two years of college. So that's created some more flexibility. And affordability benefits for students in that region, or that would be looking at George Fox.

00;31;59;11 - 00;32;41;11

Speaker 2

Another innovation isn't so much what would be opening up to a new a different sort of market, which would be the two year associates degree student students who are primarily looking to for career preparation and perhaps a more limited way than a four year college degree. So what I have in mind here is something like what University in Northwest Iowa has done in creating two year basically Christian associates degrees in in professional related areas such as manufacturing in agriculture.

00;32;41;11 - 00;33;12;29

Speaker 2

They're in a dairy farming region up there in northwest Iowa. And so they have you know, there are young people in that part of the country who aren't necessarily interested in a four year college degree, but they do want to both be be prepared for a career, but also had their Christian college experience. So Daudt has developed some some shorter span degrees that do provide that Christian college experience, but do so with an associates degree rather than a bachelor's.

00;33;13;06 - 00;33;25;26

Speaker 2

I think as time goes on, we'll see more of these sorts of innovations just because schools are looking for ways to to be sustainable, sustainable, given some of the economic and demographic trends that we've seen.

00;33;27;06 - 00;33;48;16

Speaker 1

Rick, I also wonder a little bit about the federally recognized work programs, study work programs. I think there aren't many of those and I think a few of them are Christian, represent Christian colleges and universities. Could you speak to that unique offering? And and is that a possible area of innovation and growth?

00;33;51;19 - 00;34;25;01

Speaker 2

Yeah. So well, just first of all, the distinction here, a lot of colleges and universities have access to federal work study funding. So a student who's doing work on campus could be funded and be getting part time work and then supplement their income, which obviously addresses the issue of affordability through federal work study programs. I know John Brown University, when I was there, we had that.

00;34;25;12 - 00;35;07;19

Speaker 2

There are a few institutions that have over 50% of their students who are doing work, significant work on campus and of the schools that do so are can be designated as federal work study colleges and have access to additional funding as well. And I'm not an expert in this area, so I don't want to I don't want to speak in too much detail, but I know schools like College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri, There was a school that I was close to in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kuyper College, that was on the path toward achieving that.

00;35;08;03 - 00;35;28;26

Speaker 2

That status as well. I don't know if they've actually achieved that or not. So whether we'll see, I think it's possible to see more of these sorts of institutions in the future. As for one, students are looking for a way to to make college more affordable. So working while they're there in school is is definitely an attractive option.

00;35;29;09 - 00;35;38;16

Speaker 2

But if schools can achieve a certain level of percentage of their students who are engaged in this, it can be good for the institution as well. In terms of federal funding, yeah.

00;35;39;12 - 00;35;57;03

Speaker 1

What about the role of athletics and co-curricular activities? How does that factor in to the economics issues of access, opening up greater channels, larger channels of potential students who, you know, can thrive at the at the collegiate level?

00;35;58;17 - 00;36;24;04

Speaker 2

Yeah, Yeah. And athletics is really it's become one of the prime recruiting advantages I think that Christian colleges universities have just in terms of their their smaller size. Obviously there are there are a few a small minority of students out there who are good enough at their sport to go to a Wisconsin or Michigan or, dare I say, even Ohio State.

00;36;24;17 - 00;36;45;12

Speaker 2

I can't believe I said that. Don't Go there in other institutions. Yeah, but, you know, the reality is there are a lot of high school students who played sports, including myself, who wanted to continue playing and who don't who do want to continue playing in college. And they're not going to get that full ride scholarship at a Big Ten institution.

00;36;46;19 - 00;37;14;21

Speaker 2

And so small colleges that can provide that opportunity for continued participation in, sports really have an advantage in that way. Scholarships for for these sports there I would say there's a pretty wide variety here. There are some depending on whether the institution is NCAA, a division one, two or three or NAIA, their level of scholarship being that they're eligible to do differs.

00;37;15;11 - 00;37;41;06

Speaker 2

But there are a significant number of institutions where if you're if you are good enough at your sport, you can actually receive a full ride scholarship to attend. You know, whether it's John Brown University or some of these other in I and II institutions, even at a lower level, most most college sports or athletics teams will scholarship somewhat for students to play in the sport.

00;37;41;06 - 00;38;11;13

Speaker 2

It might be anything from a nominal, you know, $500 scholarship to be on the JV or something quite significant for that student. So the benefit is both in terms of their participation in a sport, but also it can make a college degree more affordable to students. And the other interesting thing here is that overall, I know once again, there might be a perception that college athletes are you know, they're not as serious about their studies or maybe they're not doing well.

00;38;12;15 - 00;38;34;04

Speaker 2

The reality is that in general, college students who participate in intercollegiate athletics often have higher retention rates and higher graduation rates than non-athletes. And a lot of that stems from the sense of discipline and just the the accountability that they have within, their athletic team that that carries over to the college itself.

00;38;34;21 - 00;38;41;07

Speaker 1

Yeah. And at some places, academic advising and some other things that might be available to them as well.

00;38;43;26 - 00;38;44;14

Speaker 2

Exactly.

00;38;46;01 - 00;39;07;28

Speaker 1

Is it just a follow up on that? Is it possible I always had heard that it you can't actually get in athletic scholarship at a NCAA Division three. Division two is just Division one. But I guess what you're saying is there are other ways to actually scholarship the students who are student athletes, correct?

00;39;08;01 - 00;39;37;18

Speaker 2

Yeah. For and say NCAA Division three. There is not athletic scholarship to me but you're right there are there can be other ways to to to scholarship students who come to an institution and then who play a sport division to a scholarship. Being athletic scholarships are allowed Division one, obviously, and in a institutions which is what Westmont is we're looking at shifting there.

00;39;37;18 - 00;39;41;25

Speaker 2

But now institutions do provide athletic scholarships. Okay.

00;39;42;14 - 00;40;14;11

Speaker 1

And then, Rick, I wanted to circle back before I move to a new topic, and that is, let's say I'm an you know, I'm a good student, but I'm not an outstanding student. A lot of the or I'm not an outstanding athlete, but I you know, want to access Christian higher education. How do the options shift? For me, a lot of what you presented were ways that institutions can attract the very top students and incentivize them to come.

00;40;15;28 - 00;40;37;16

Speaker 1

But what if you're you're kind of middle of the pack, you're in the peloton, so to speak. Can you're not not a breakout. How do issues of access and affordability begin to change, you know, from from a real practical perspective, are there still options there or do the odds just get much more difficult?

00;40;39;06 - 00;41;04;01

Speaker 2

Yeah, no, that's a good question. Yeah, there's still there are definitely options there. So you have to have a 30 to 34 score in order to, you know, to get a decent scholarship to go to a Christian college. It really goes back to doing your homework on what colleges you're interested in attending, getting on their website, completing the what's called the FAFSA.

00;41;04;07 - 00;41;33;10

Speaker 2

The the I'm going to get the acronym wrong. What basically it's to apply for financial, federal level financial aid. And then depending on the state that you're in, there are significant state grants available. All that gets factored into the price of attendance. And and there are there are I wouldn't want to imply that the only discounting or scholarship thing that happens at the institution is for the high end students.

00;41;33;10 - 00;42;04;27

Speaker 2

It's all graduated. So even you know, you're your B level student with a decent or average act score is still going to be getting institutional aid to attend that institution. And so and then the reality is that most students do take out loans to to to get their college degree. And all of the evidence which suggests that that's good investment to make.

00;42;05;09 - 00;42;34;05

Speaker 2

And obviously you don't want to graduate with $100,000 in debt unless you're, you know, med school or something like that. But I don't think students should be. And I know there are probably some financial analysts who may differ on this, but I think, you know, going into moderate debt in order to earn a college degree is is is a good investment of your resources.

00;42;34;05 - 00;42;49;23

Speaker 2

And so I think one should be willing to do so within limits, but then also recognize that, you know, that's going to you're going to be spending some years in your career paying that off just as you would a a car loan or or a mortgage or other things. Yeah.

00;42;50;27 - 00;43;18;21

Speaker 1

Over the decades that you've been involved in Christian higher education, Rick, what what have you seen changed structurally within the universities and colleges to ensure retention? What new departments have have been birthed? Where do you see record resources shifting to ensure that students are successful? I wonder if you could just lay out where some of the big macro changes are taking place.

00;43;20;14 - 00;43;56;07

Speaker 2

Yeah. Yeah. First of all, I should mention one in this whole subject, I guess a student retention and graduation. Private Christian colleges overall do significantly better than than the public universities. And so that is an important thing to consider when you thinking about the, you know, the value of a degree, but also cost of attendance. If you, you know, three years at a public institution and not getting a degree ultimately is is a higher cost to you or to your son or daughter than finishing a degree at a at a private institution.

00;43;56;16 - 00;44;22;24

Speaker 2

So the performance, generally speaking, is strong in that area for these institutions. And I think that's because they recognize that both for educational and religious reasons, but also practical reasons, It makes sense to keep your students as students, but also to see them graduate in a timely manner and and move on to productive adult lives. That's going to benefit you as the institution as well.

00;44;22;24 - 00;44;58;03

Speaker 2

So how have they done that? There's been more of an emphasis on the Centers for Student Success Resourcing Staff members or departments, especially to focus on that first year of the college experience. If you look at the numbers, most students, if they don't persist at the at the institution that they begin at, they they fall away during that first year or you know, after did the summer between first and second year that's that's when they they don't come back.

00;44;58;03 - 00;45;30;01

Speaker 2

And so first the first year retention is the number that all schools look at. And if you can be in the eighties you know close to 90% and you're doing really well, a lot of schools really struggle with retention in the sixties and seventies. And as a parent or student looking at institutions, that should be, that's an important thing for you to look at, not just what the sticker price is, but what's your retention rate, What's the likelihood that that I'm actually going to be successful here that needs to be important.

00;45;30;08 - 00;45;59;00

Speaker 2

So Department is for student success, really attention to first year students here at Westmont, for example. We have, you know, first year coaches that not just our academic advisors, but can help students with any other transition issues they might be having. And in moving to a full residential college experience, schools such as well as others also have what's called an early alert system.

00;45;59;20 - 00;46;28;02

Speaker 2

And so if I'm if I'm teaching U.S. history and it's October and my first is the fall semester and there's, you know, a couple of students in the class who are getting a D or an F after the first first exam, there's a mechanism for me to alert that student success department that, you know, the student didn't do well in this course and someone should probably reach out and see if they need any help.

00;46;29;02 - 00;46;49;14

Speaker 2

There are all sorts of kind of alert mechanisms in place to try to keep prevent students from falling through the cracks. And frankly, it's easier to do that as a small institution than a public university, you know, 40,000 students. And so I think these this is it's definitely a factor in favor of of a Christian college or university.

00;46;49;20 - 00;47;22;04

Speaker 1

Yeah. Thanks, Rick. That's really helpful. I, I really appreciate your your experiences and unraveling. I think some of the complexity related to the economics and and access. I want to shift a little bit here in this final part of our conversation. I want to ask you a little bit about what you've learned over the years, both as a parents, I mean, for kids through Christian colleges and universities, but also as an administrator and a faculty member at Christian colleges and universities, what have you learned about determining fit?

00;47;22;16 - 00;47;27;23

Speaker 1

What would you say to parents or students about how to discern fit in these institutions?

00;47;31;00 - 00;48;03;01

Speaker 2

Yeah, that's a great question. So much. You know, there is, especially if you're if you're looking at college as a formative four year experience in your life, which I'm a strong believer in. And that still is a strong model for for for many students, determining fit is just really important. And fortunately for us, all of our four children had that great experiences, not perfect, but good experiences in every institution they went to.

00;48;03;25 - 00;48;36;29

Speaker 2

And so how do you determine that? First of all, I would say there's no substitute for a campus visit. Hopefully that maybe that doesn't need to be said, but especially during COVID, I guess it did. That wasn't always the case. But there's obviously every school is going to have a great photos on their website and, you know, of perfect weather and kids, you know, students hanging out together, having a great time and so on.

00;48;38;06 - 00;49;01;24

Speaker 2

But you need to get there in person and see what the campus is like, meet with professors. That's really crucial. At the end of the day, this is an academic institution. It's not it's not summer camp. And so find out what the faculty are like. Attend a class, you know, and once again, obviously, on a busy day, a college is going to put its best foot forward.

00;49;01;24 - 00;49;16;29

Speaker 2

You know, as a faculty member is always kind of a running joke. If you were going to eat lunch in the dining room, wait till a visit day because the food's going to be better on Fridays when we have a visit day and that sort of thing. So, you know, obviously the college is going to try to is going to make its best impression.

00;49;16;29 - 00;49;40;03

Speaker 2

But nonetheless, if you're on a campus for an entire day, you're going to there's only so much you can take. And you know, you're going to you're going to see aspects of that real institution. So campus visits, visits are important, especially contact with faculty. The more that you or your son or daughter can can interact with actual students at that at that college.

00;49;40;25 - 00;50;03;29

Speaker 2

Is that that's going to say a lot, obviously. So those are the sorts of things you can I think on the front end to after obviously looking at the website and if there are particular academic programs you're interested, obviously you want to make sure that that institution, you know, if you're thinking about engineering, make sure at least there's pre-engineering or something there that's going to prepare you for that.

00;50;05;27 - 00;50;30;29

Speaker 2

But I would also say I had a colleague once who had had a line make a decision, then make it the right one. I think any college can be a great fit or for a student. A lot of it has to do with what decisions you make once you're actually there. And it has to do with finding an area there, whether it's if you're playing a sport that's a natural connection point.

00;50;30;29 - 00;50;55;05

Speaker 2

But if not, where, where can you get involved and develop relationships and develop that fit? You know, sometimes we think of fit is just something that happens to you. Well, it actually it's a matter of what you're actually doing to ensure that fit. And so it's important and it's not, you know, obviously some students do end up transferring away after a semester or a year.

00;50;55;18 - 00;51;23;01

Speaker 2

But I think generally speaking, if you do your homework and really get there in person, you can go a long way in determining institutional fit. One of the thing I'd along those lines, as you know, there is a lot of Christian colleges can differ in terms of even their expectations for students as a Christian institution. So make sure you're going in with your eyes wide open in terms of, you know, are you okay with require chapel, as many institutions do.

00;51;24;03 - 00;51;46;25

Speaker 2

If not, then you probably you know, you don't want to just be chomping at the bit as far as chapel goes for four years. So maybe there's a, you know, Calvin doesn't require a chapel. Taylor doesn't require chapel, Wheaton does. So maybe that's one of the things you want to factor in. So just be aware of, you know, kind of what the different expectations are in terms of Christian institution as well.

00;51;47;05 - 00;52;01;12

Speaker 1

Yeah, that's really helpful. And you've given me some some good advice when when I hear a student complaining about the weather in January, February, Madison, I'm going to say you made a decision. Now make it the right decision.

00;52;04;07 - 00;52;10;24

Speaker 2

Exactly. Even though we showed you sunny, beautiful fall weather, you know, and on the website, it's always the case.

00;52;10;25 - 00;52;38;23

Speaker 1

Exactly. Exactly. Okay. So my last question and I want you to kind of give a strong apologetic for both Christian education and the decision to attend a maybe a flagship public university or a non-religious college or university. What is your best case for why someone should attend a Christian college and then make a case? Because I know you care about both of both sides of this equation.

00;52;39;07 - 00;52;49;14

Speaker 1

Make a case for why a student should attend a University of Wisconsin or a University of Michigan, or even the Ohio State University.

00;52;51;16 - 00;52;53;12

Speaker 2

I notice you said the campus.

00;52;53;12 - 00;52;59;28

Speaker 1

I got there. I got the article right. I did get the article right. I hope we don't have any Ohio listeners. I'm getting worried about.

00;53;01;12 - 00;53;04;18

Speaker 2

Oh, I think we're being we're we're being positive. We are.

00;53;04;18 - 00;53;12;16

Speaker 1

We're talking about it. And that means we we envy them or something. But but go ahead. Make a case for for for for both sides of this equation.

00;53;14;06 - 00;53;50;04

Speaker 2

Great. Yeah, I'd be happy to, Annie, because as you as you mentioned and as we discussed earlier, I am a product of both. So I have never had any desire to, you know, to bash public universities or secular education or anything like that. Let me start with Christian institutions. I think the best case for a Christian, for attending a Christian college goes back to and I'm not going to quote Dutch reformed theologians here, I'll just allude to them.

00;53;50;04 - 00;54;15;23

Speaker 2

But the fact that education is not neutral, there was at one point, I think, in the history of academia, and my advisor, George Morrison, has spoken to this this notion that somehow there is this you can be completely objective in terms of how you approach education or how how you approach a subject, whether it's sociology or history or literature or what have you.

00;54;16;17 - 00;54;46;03

Speaker 2

And that's just not the case. We all come to our disciplines, come to academic study from a particular perspective or point of view. You could call it a worldview if you'd like. There are other terms. And so if that's the case, I think the best for a Christian college is that you will receive an education that is intentionally integrating a Christian perspective into your academic study.

00;54;46;13 - 00;55;12;08

Speaker 2

There are a lot of other things that Christian colleges do. We can talk about, like Chapel Chapel services or, you know, small size and sense of community. And those are important. But at the end of the day, with the Christian college offers that a michigan Wisconsin does not, is this intentional integration of faith into the learning process? And I think that's the the best card in the sense that that a Christian college has to play.

00;55;13;12 - 00;55;45;12

Speaker 2

So how about a public or a flagship university? I think there are well, a few benefits here. One is that some students really do are looking for that one, a greater variety of academic programs, anything from you know, take your pick, you know, physical therapy to engineering, to physics. And so there might be a wider variety of academic programs available to a student.

00;55;46;00 - 00;56;27;01

Speaker 2

But also some students are looking for that excitement of a large university campus, whether that's, you know, a football game in the big house or or, you know, just the the broader culture or network and alumni network that you might have access to. And I think those are those are important attractions of a public university along with that, I would also say that there is the possibility increasingly so with the Christian Studies Center movement of actually attending a Wisconsin or a michigan and still being part of a Christian academic community.

00;56;27;02 - 00;56;55;03

Speaker 2

So that's why that's probably a topic for a different conversation that you're going to be having. The Christian Studies Center movement, I think, is really important in in providing not just a Christian experience. First, you know, students on a public university campus, but a Christian academic experience and providing in some ways that the best of what the Christian college provides, but doing so on a on a public university campus.

00;56;55;11 - 00;57;17;25

Speaker 2

So I think there are there are arguments to be made both ways. Another one might be, you know, depending if you're in state, obviously to go back to the affordability issue, it might be more affordable to attend a public university than a private and not always. I know in my case at my alma mater with Michigan, that that necessarily wouldn't be the case.

00;57;17;25 - 00;57;40;21

Speaker 2

But there are other benefits of being at those sorts of institutions. So at the end of the day, going back to this idea of fit, I think students need to to do their homework and consider all the options. And then and also, you know, pray and really seek God's leading in these areas. This is an important decision that you'll be making, like.

00;57;42;20 - 00;58;11;12

Speaker 1

Rick, thank you. This has been a really enjoyable and enlightening conversation. And I'll just personally add that I just find you always so helpful to to talk to your you're really a fount of knowledge and and I love the way you approach these issues as well. You always approach them from a relational perspective and wanting the best for those that are serving and thinking about serving in higher ed Christian higher education.

00;58;11;12 - 00;58;34;21

Speaker 1

So so thank you for all of your commitments, all the ways that you serve. And we will put more about Rick in the show notes and you can find him at Westmont College, Westmont downtown. And Rick, where where might listeners also find you? I know you I think you have a recent book or an edited volume that came out.

00;58;34;21 - 00;58;36;09

Speaker 1

Is that correct? Or something that's coming?

00;58;38;23 - 00;59;05;01

Speaker 2

I have a book coming out with Eerdman’s Publishing, still finishing up the manuscript, so that'll probably be several months out. I have a book that a number of Christian colleges use is called Why College Matters to God as well. But if yeah, the best to reach me would be simply to Westmont College website or I'm on LinkedIn like, like many others nowadays.

00;59;05;10 - 00;59;23;14

Speaker 2

Or my emails actually my website. Ostrander Academics dot com would be another way to to reach me, but I enjoyed our conversation. I really appreciate the work that you're doing as well in higher education in a very different way and really appreciate this opportunity.

00;59;23;22 - 00;59;48;01

Speaker 1

Well, thanks for we have loved having you on the show. Thanks for joining us. If you've enjoyed today's podcast, be sure to subscribe and give us a rating on your favorite podcast app. Also, be sure to check out our upcoming events on Upper House Dawg and our other podcast Upwards, where we dig deeper into the topics. Our in-house guests are passionate about.

00;59;48;29 - 01;00;07;26

Speaker 1

With Faith in Mind is supported by the Stephen and Laurel Brown Foundation. It is produced at Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin, hosted by Dan Hummel and Jon Terrill. Our executive producer and editor is Jesse Koopman. And please follow us on social media with the handle at Upper House, UW.