ACE Launches Commission on Faith-Based Colleges and Universities to Foster Collaboration and Innovation in Higher Education


In an effort to enhance collaboration and innovation within higher education, the American Council on Education (ACE) has established a new Commission on Faith-Based Colleges and Universities.

This commission aims to spotlight the unique contributions of religiously affiliated institutions, facilitate discussions among their leaders, and promote cooperation between religious and secular higher education establishments.

ACE Launches Commission on Faith-Based Colleges and Universities to Foster Collaboration and Innovation in Higher Education

(Photo : PEXELS / Savvas Stavrinos)

Highlighting the Strengths of Faith-Based Institutions

The inaugural meeting of the commission, held in Washington, D.C., brought together approximately 35 campus presidents representing around 50 religiously affiliated colleges and universities across the United States. During the meeting, Ted Mitchell, president of ACE, emphasized the importance of religious institutions in fostering a sense of belonging among students, which he identified as a key factor in student retention.

Mitchell stated, "Religiously affiliated institutions have lessons to teach the rest of higher ed. They excel at fostering a 'sense of belonging,' which is the 'number one' factor that keeps students enrolled." He expressed ACE's commitment to helping these institutions share their successful strategies with the broader higher education community.

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Diverse Representation and Collaboration

The executive committee of the commission comprises presidents from a range of faith-based colleges and universities, such as the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic University of America, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, Samford University, and Wheaton College. Additionally, historically Black faith-based universities such as Claflin University, Dillard University, and Oakwood University are part of the group, reflecting a diverse range of denominations and theological backgrounds.

Clark G. Gilbert, co-chair of the commission, highlighted the significance of this diverse representation, noting that it spans Catholics, evangelicals, Baptists, Jews, and Seventh Day Adventists. While these institutions have had informal partnerships in the past, this is the first formal attempt to collectively work together. Gilbert stated, "At a time of polarization, look at all these people who are working really well together as friends across very different belief systems."

Challenges and Opportunities for Faith-Based Institutions

One of the challenges facing faith-based colleges and universities is the increasing secularization of American society. As fewer people identify with a religious tradition, institutions must adapt to appeal to a less religious prospective student body. Shirley V. Hoogstra, co-chair of the commission and president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, emphasized the need for institutions to diversify their academic offerings and sustain their missions long-term.

Hoogstra stated, "Students are struggling with their mental health and in search of a sense of meaning and purpose, and faith-based institutions supply that." She added that while nonreligious institutions may not have a religious mission, they can still emphasize principles such as character formation, cultivating a flourishing life, and being service-minded, which are attractive to students.

Addressing Contemporary Challenges in Higher Education

At the commission's inaugural meeting, participants engaged in discussions on how faith-based institutions can tackle contemporary challenges in higher education, including affordability, college completion gaps, and the role of research and scholarship. Speakers also addressed contentious topics, such as campus protests related to international conflicts like Israel's war in Gaza.

Some college and university presidents described religion as a driver of innovation on their campuses, citing examples such as launching three-year degrees to reduce students' costs and time to degree. They also emphasized that faith-based institutions are not at odds with science or academic intellectualism, but rather see them as complementary aspects of a well-rounded education.

The establishment of the Commission on Faith-Based Colleges and Universities by ACE represents a significant step toward fostering collaboration and innovation within higher education. By highlighting the strengths of religiously affiliated institutions, promoting dialogue among their leaders, and addressing shared challenges, the commission aims to enrich the higher education landscape in the United States. As these institutions continue to adapt to a changing societal landscape, their contributions to student success and academic excellence remain vital pillars of the higher education community.

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