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Is Christian Education Worth the Cost?

  • Harvey Nowland Baptist Press
  • Published Apr 22, 2004
Is Christian Education Worth the Cost?

Parents must decide whether children attend a public, private, or Christian school. However, parents also must understand that schools do not have the primary responsibility for the education of their children -- parents do.

There are schools of every stripe that could be labeled as excellent, good, fair, or poor. All public education is not fair or poor, any more than all private or Christian education is good or excellent. Whether in the public or private sector, much depends on the abilities of teachers and other factors, and that could range from adequate to superior.

Everyone has some sort of worldview. But according to a Barna Research study, relatively few people have a biblical worldview -- even among devoutly religious people. Barna defined a biblical worldview as believing in six specific and absolute biblical moral truths:

1. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life;
2. God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today;
3. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned;
4. Satan is real;
5. Christians have a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and
6. The Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

The survey discovered that only 9 percent of those categorized as born-again Christians hold such a life perspective.

Behavior stems from what we think -- attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions -- and Barna's research indicates that most Christians never integrate core biblical principles into meaningful responses to the challenges and opportunities of life.

One would hope that a Christian education would provide that. Nevertheless, biblical illiterates who lack godly critical thinking skills can come from almost any system. Again, the role of parents is critical in teaching children how to develop and maintain a biblical worldview.

The Cost of Christian Education

How much is too much in terms of annual tuition for a Christian education -- $5,000, $10,000, or more?

It is common practice to provide a sliding scale of tuition for families with more than one child in Christian elementary or high schools. For example, a 20 percent reduction might be given for a second child's tuition and as much as a 40 percent reduction provided for three or more children.

Vouchers, tuition tax credits and scholarships have become common and are being awarded in a growing number of states as a way of allowing more children to attend private schools, rather than government-operated public schools. According to David Salisbury, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, critics claim that vouchers or tax credits won't give children from poor families access to private schools because the costs of such schools are high. But figures available from the U.S. Department of Education show that in 2000 the average tuition for private elementary schools nationwide was $3,267.20 per year.

Government figures also indicate that 41 percent of all private elementary and secondary schools -- more than 27,000 nationwide -- charged less than $2,500 per year for tuition, and only about 21 percent of all private schools charged more than $5,000 per year in tuition.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), achievement tests in reading, mathematics and science show higher average scores for private school students. And private schools tend to require more years of core academic subjects for high school graduation than do public schools, with some variation across school types. On average, graduates of private high schools have completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, athematics and foreign language.

In addition, NCES also showed that students who had attended private school in 8th grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor's or higher degree by their mid-20s, and far less likely to have had no postsecondary education.

Is a Christian education in elementary, middle or high school worth sacrificing for now, instead of saving for college? Well, Barna's research concerning biblical worldviews seems to indicate that a person's worldview needs early nurturing. So, at the very least, perhaps parents should give Christian education a closer look.

Paying for College Expenses

By the year 2008 the U.S. Department of Education projects costs of a four-year state college education to range from $35,000 to $40,000, and private college costs could double or triple. If these projections are correct, a family should begin to set savings goals as soon as possible, preferably while the prospective student is in preschool rather than high school.

Of course the most economical way to attend college is for a student to live at home, attend a relatively inexpensive community college one or two years, work part time to save money, then transfer to a four-year school.

Proverbs 16:26 says, "A worker's appetite works for him." When children help to earn their way, the education they seek often means a great deal more to them.

Grants and scholarships offer a good type of college money, because they are usually tax free and don't have to be repaid. Both are offered by colleges, for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Federal and state grants usually are restricted to students who can prove that they have a great financial need.

Successfully locating, applying for and receiving grants and scholarships requires time, energy, persistence and patience. Begin your search early to learn about the variety of resources well in advance of any application deadlines.

Begin a scholarship and grant search at the local level such as in school counselors' offices, community organizations (Lions Club, Rotary Club), religious organizations, parents' employers, labor organizations, or civic group organizations (Scouts, YMCA). Next, investigate campus-based scholarships and grants before moving on to state and national offerings.

Student loans should be the very last resort, and every other avenue of financing should be thoroughly explored before a loan is considered. If a loan is needed, borrow only what is absolutely required for education expenses, borrow for a short period of time, pay back what was borrowed as quickly as possible, and sacrifice as needed to get out of debt.

What's Your Answer?

Parents must decide whether a Christian education is worth it. But, everyone needs a model to follow, so carefully lead your children to develop a biblical worldview. It begins at home.

Help your children understand that we don't have to operate under the world's perspective. Teach them that God has ordained each of us to fill a special role in His service -- a unique calling that He has purposefully designed for each of us to serve others, honor Him, impact the world around us and win others to Him.

Our youth need to be aware of this and prayerfully look to Him to discover His will for their lives. Whatever they may become -- doctors, custodians, teachers, carpenters, lawyers or preachers -- they need to know they are following God's will for their lives.

If you truly believe that God wants your child to attend a Christian school, He will supply the funds, even without having to borrow. The great 19th century American revivalist Charles Finney said, "God supplies where He guides. Where He does not supply, He does not guide."

This truth hasn't changed, and it still holds true today. "My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).


Harvey Nowland is a former senior writer for Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville, Ga., who also has been a Southern Baptist pastor in Texas and Georgia and an International Mission Board missionary in Peru.