Whatever your plan, the thought of college tuition raises fear in the hearts of many parents. How to pay?
The Morlino family has one solution.
“Everything we’ve been doing for the last 17 years has been leading up to this moment,” said Jim Morlino, whose oldest daughter just began college and whose second oldest is in the application stage. “We have only had in mind that, should they choose to go to college, that experience would be an organic fulfilment or extension of what we’ve tried to instill in them for the past 17 years. It’s all been part of the same plot. We took seriously our obligation as [primary] educators of our children, and more importantly, spiritual guides for them.”
Morlino, a filmmaker whose credits include The War of the Vendee and St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and his wife, Fran, are the parents of six homeschooled children.
For some Catholic families, going to college is not a given. What’s primary is rearing children to be saints. If college fits in with God’s plans for the child, so be it. Regina Doman and her husband, Andrew Schmiedicke, have reared their children trying to keep these questions front and center: “What do you want to do with your life? What is God calling you to do?”
“’Should I go to college’ is a question whose answer depends on the answer to those first two questions,” said Doman, an author of children’s and young adult novels. “I had the benefit of knowing what I wanted to do and being able to major in something I was really interested in. My husband regrets that he went to college out of a sense of ‘Well, it’s what people like me do,’ without a sense of what he was going to study…. He ended up using very little of what he studied in the jobs he took afterwards.”
Doman and her husband are encouraging their eight (soon to be nine) children to look at other options: internships, travel opportunities, study abroad, community college.
For families whose children pursue higher education, the first question is where to get the best education they can afford. There’s no shortage of college guides, and several have become favorites of Catholic families, among them the Newman Guide , published by the Cardinal Newman Society; the National Catholic Register’s Catholic Identity College Guide ; and Choosing the Right College , published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Steve Wood, founder of the Family Life Center, has a few pointers: Visit the campus on a non-visitors day to get beyond any show a college might want to put on for potential students; visit classes, particularly those related to your child’s field of interest; visit the campus on a Friday night between 9-11, and check out the college’s student handbook, especially the dormitory policy on when members of the opposite sex may visit one’s dorm.
But word of mouth is an important resource as well. For the Morlinos, who rely on the judgment of people in their homeschooling network, there are very few colleges that they would trust to provide a “safe environment, not just physically but spiritually as much as possible.”
“It comes down to the stated identity or mission of the college,” said Jim Morlino. “Many so-called Catholic colleges either deemphasize their Catholicity or deemphasize the importance of integration of the faith into learning or have mixtures of either disciplines or faculty members or even stated philosophies that just don’t square with what we thought would be appropriate. There seem to be only a handful of schools that really take this seriously, whether it’s manifested by the fact that they swear allegiance to the Magisterium in keeping with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the types of faculty they attract, the reputation of the school for seriousness and love of the faith.”
Regina Doman relies on the “by their fruits ye shall know them” test.
“We have developed the habit of scrutinizing recent college graduates from schools we are considering, to see how they measure up as Catholics and as people,” she said. “Do we want our kids looking and acting like them?”
For Tom Hoopes and his wife, April, it is important to ask, “At this school, is the faith something that my daughter will have to look for? Will my son have to have an affinity with one peer group, and one style of being Catholic — the group at the Catholic center — to find a Catholic community? Or is this a school where the whole community is Catholic, and where students of different temperaments and dispositions can all find a faith expression that fits them, even if they don’t ‘fit in’ with the campus ministry crowd?”
For Hoopes, vice president for college relations at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., the choice has potentially eternal consequences. “I hear from parents all the time, and they wish they had known that college is the single most important faith expenditure for your child,” he said. “Studies say that the ages of 19-24 are when a person locks into a worldview and a lifestyle for good. Nowadays it is even more critical. It used to be that the culture was generally religious, and people would stray in their college years and lock back into place. Now the statistics say that they stray and never come back. And the ‘straying’ nowadays at secular college doesn’t mean drinking to excess occasionally: It means full immersion in a postmodern understanding of gender, sexuality and morality.”
All the more reason to be careful about what you’re paying for. If you can pay, that is.
Finances will be the topic of Part 2 of this article.