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Volume 99, Number 1

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Messiah ranks as treasure in state                          

by Richard T. Hughes

Richard Hughes

RICHARD T. HUGHES is distinguished professor and senior fellow in the Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah College and author of The Vocation of a Christian Scholar and Models for Christian Higher


Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA)

Sunday, May 06, 2007


It's pretty clear to me that many in Pennsylvania — in fact, in the entire Mid−Atlantic Region — have no idea what a first−class school Messiah College has become. I base that on articles I read in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and countless blogs after Monica Goodling, a Messiah graduate and former senior counsel to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, took the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify about the forced resignations of eight federal judges. For example, a story in the Inquirer noted that "Goodling's background is curious. Now 33, she graduated from Messiah College." The article then suggests that Messiah is a lesser quality institution. I know the facts to be otherwise. For 24 years, I taught at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. — another first−class school — and I wouldn't have left there for anything less. In head−to−head competition with public and private colleges and universities, Messiah College consistently ranks among the top five comprehensive institutions in the northeastern United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. For passing the certified public accountant exam, Messiah's accounting students rank seventh nationally and first in Pennsylvania, ahead even of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Messiah was one of only two institutions in the state whose nursing classes scored a 100 percent pass rate in 2006 on the National Council Licensure Examinations. And Messiah's international programs consistently rank among the top 20 in the nation.

With achievements such as these, it comes as no surprise to learn that in the past 10 years, Messiah has graduated Rhodes, Fulbright, Carnegie and Truman scholars. Later, I read another story about Monica Goodling in The Patriot−News, reprinted from the Washington Post. That story noted that "Goodling majored in communications at Messiah College, a Christian school in Grantham, Pa., that does not have coed dorms or allow alcohol on campus." One can only wonder what that throw−away line about coed dorms and alcohol was all about. It surely had nothing to do with the substance of the story. Frankly, it struck me as a clumsy attempt to suggest that Christian colleges are somehow more provincial and therefore of lesser academic quality than institutions that do have coed dorms and where alcohol is not restricted. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see through the shoddy logic of that proposition.

Like other types of colleges, Christian colleges and universities run the gamut on academic quality. Some are weak and some are strong. But the best Christian colleges are comparable to the best institutions anywhere in the United States. I know this to be true from experience. I've taught at a variety of universities including church−related and state−supported, I've had grants to study church−related higher education from coast to coast, and I've written books about quality in Christian higher education. The good news for people in the Mid−Atlantic region is this: Of the hundreds of Christian colleges and universities in the United States, Messiah is one of the best.

Christian colleges and universities also differ widely in the values they espouse. Because Monica Goodling graduated from Messiah College and later from Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School, stories like the one in the Inquirer imply that these two institutions are fundamentally similar. Nothing could be further from the truth. With its Anabaptist roots, Messiah nurtures its students in the values of community building, peacemaking and reconciliation. In fact, I've never taught at an institution that took those issues with greater seriousness. Messiah College also promotes diversity. It equips students for service, especially to the poor and the dispossessed. And it leads students to think through — and to act on — thorny social issues such as wealth and poverty, global warming and race relations.

In light of these qualities — and the remarkable achievements of Messiah College — central Pennsylvanians should know that we have in our backyard one of the best private colleges in the United States and, by any measure, one of the top Christian colleges in the country.

RICHARD T. HUGHES is distinguished professor and senior fellow in the Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah College and author of The Vocation of a Christian Scholar and Models for Christian Higher Education.

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