Freedom to choose – a Christian college?

Op-Ed by Judy Mullet

The college experience offers a critical path to going where you want to go. But even more important than the destination is how you get there.

College life brings freedom to choose what, how and when to study as well as how to live and learn in a global context. Psychologists tell us that our actions and choices are often inspired by personal needs. If our basic needs for food, shelter and safety are met, then our psychological needs begin to motivate our thoughts and actions.

I call these psychological needs the “four Fs of motivation.” They are: the need for freedom (choices), for friendship, for fun and to find meaning in life.

At college, if your basic needs are met, you will have opportunity to make choices based on those psychological needs. Rotted within these four F’s of motivation is a desire to achieve, to make a difference.

As such, Christian colleges aspire beyond the typical capacity-building mantra of higher education to “be all that you can be.” The theme instead becomes “be all that you were meant to be” from a faith perspective.

The Eastern Mennonite University vision statement makes reference to the Micah 6:8 text calling God’s people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Those words inform everything we do, from an emphasis on ethics and integrity in the business classroom to holistic healing in the nursing program.

(See www.emu.edu/president/mission).

Consider carefully the mission and vision statements of each university you consider. These words will tell you what shapes their choices regarding curriculum and instruction.

Within that worldview, you will have opportunity to make many choices during your college journey and in turn will be profoundly shaped by these choices. What choices will maximize your pathway to a meaningful education?

I recently asked a class of sophomore students at EMU to discuss the academic difference between their high-school experience and their first year as university students. Four themes emerged:

1. In college, you are not in class every moment of the day, so it seems there’s more free time. Expect to feel little external pressure to structure your day. However, as one student noted, “You have tons of time, but also tons of responsibility.” Studying is not optional; without regularly- planned study times throughout the day, a student can quickly fall behind. Many professors ascribe to the “2 for 1” theory of studying – at least two hours of study for every hour spent in class.

2. College coursework is generally more cognitively demanding; the reading load is heavy and more time is needed to understand what is read.

3. You may have fewer assignments and tests in college, but each one is critically important.

4. You’re paying for a college education, and that changes the motivational structure. You aren’t “tracked down” if you miss classes, but choosing to attend class maximizes your educational experience.

From my experience as a professor at EMU, I would add these expectations:

1. Because you live and breathe in a busy social community, sleep is precious. Researchers tell us that sleep is a prime contributor to the level and quality of learning. Don’t rob “Peter to pay Paul” by reducing sleep time to study or socialize.

2. Expect a minimum of 250 pages of reading in a given week. Don’t expect to pass merely by listening in class. You’re being taught the structure and content of a discipline, and thus reading what experts write facilitates a larger understanding.

3. Remember the “rule of firsts”; your first assignment sets the standard for your own expectations and shapes the critical first impression made on each professor. Do your first assignments with the greatest care to maximize your capacity within the academic journey. Also, sit near the front of the classroom and contribute to each class discussion during the first week.

4. College is an opportunity to start over. You can be the kind of student you choose to be. Set the tone early in your first semester.

5. Learn to discern the important, the meaningful within your calling. Your college community no longer shares a common geographical background; students come from other worlds and cultures. Listen for the surprises as you learn from them in addition to your professors. Learn to learn through conversation.

And finally, college is living, not just preparation for living. Experiencing the richness of a Christian educational community can help you find your calling and live that calling along the way. You can now go everywhere.

Dr. Judy H. Mullet is professor of psychology and education and director of the honors program at Eastern Mennonite University.


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