Connect the Mind and Heart by Choosing a Catholic College

by
Vice President for Enrollment Management, St. Mary's University

With the myriad of private and public options, choosing a college can be a daunting task for students and parents. High school students must wade through print and online material, then make the ever-important campus visits to narrow their options. Finally—hopefully—they will have found a school that matches the characteristics they seek.

You’ll probably consider many aspects of a campus before deciding on a school, but national research suggests three important characteristics will come out on top: availability of your intended major, quality of academic offerings, and access to professors. But what if you are looking for more?

Catholic colleges and universities strive to educate the mind and the heart. More than 200 Catholic higher education institutions in the United States prepare students for more than professional careers, they give them the tools to lead meaningful lives. People are often looking at the “return on investment” when it comes to postsecondary education, a quantitative measure based on annual starting salary or lifetime earnings potential. But this is a one-dimensional view that does not allow for a qualitative analysis of the profound benefits to be reaped over a lifetime.

Rooted in history

Catholic institutions provide a distinctive education, one with an extraordinary ability to link the past to both the present and future in significantly relevant ways. While the settings differ in enrollment size, location, student body composition, and governance, the common heritage is the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. At its core, the liberal arts provide a foundation for understanding what it means to be human and the ways in which our human experience and condition are intertwined with God. Yet, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is not limited to the liberal arts. In fact, it opens the path to the study of other disciplines through a particular lens.

Within the structure of Catholic higher education, students can find many educational traditions, each with its own unique set of values and practices. Though connected by a common ancestry, the different educational sects each bring something distinctive and diverse to the Catholic educational landscape. Augustinian, Benedictine, Diocesan, Dominican, Franciscan, Holy Cross, Jesuit, Lasallian, Marianist, Sisters of Mercy, and Vincentian: these heritages, among several others, make up the Catholic educational tradition.

Defining a Catholic education

Ethical behavior and the worth of the individual, created in the image and likeness of God, are themes that resonate throughout courses in all disciplines. Faculty use the framework of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition to shape the curriculum. Questions and discussions about ethics and faith are not isolated, but flow throughout all academic areas and courses. Future engineers consider not just the technology of water filtration systems, but the benefits to the citizens of developing countries and how the operation of new structures will impact people and the environment. Business students are concerned with issues like sustainability and corporate responsibility. Catholic institutions instill in their graduates with a strong sense of duty and purpose to act for the common good.

With the values-based education provided by Catholic colleges and universities, students learn to think critically and act ethically. Magnified by the uncertainty of our tumultuous economy, both domestic and international, parents and students can be confident that Catholic institutions will prepare students for the future by sharply honing their critical-thinking skills. Students will learn how to learn, a trait valued by many top-tier employers, as well as to embrace a love of lifelong learning. Whether the future holds times of widespread economic, political, or environmental uncertainty or prosperity and peace, graduates of Catholic schools are equipped with the intellectual tools to navigate successfully. It’s a well-rounded education that develops students intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, providing them with the ingenuity, fortitude, and compassion to weather life’s most critical challenges.

On campus and beyond

Catholic institutions educate for service, social justice, and peace. Professors and student development professionals strive to nurture servant leaders who hone their skills and commitment while in school. Countless examples demonstrate graduates actively use their talents in service to their local and extended communities, their parishes, and their families.

Students enrolled in Catholic institutions are invited to explore issues of spirituality and strengthen their faith regardless of whether or not Catholicism is their faith tradition. Learning in and out of the classroom, students can use numerous resources offered through outstanding campus ministry organizations to actively engage in liturgies, retreats, and service.

Renowned researchers and scholars choose to work at Catholic colleges and universities because they are, first and foremost, teachers dedicated to helping students achieve their aspirations. Learning takes place within caring communities that support and nurture the gifts and talents of each individual. It’s common to see the descriptors “welcoming,” “family,” or “community” used in viewbooks produced by all types of colleges, but the terms truly manifest themselves on the Catholic campuses across the country.

Graduates of Catholic colleges and universities possess excellent records of accomplishment, including entrance to the nation’s most competitive graduate and professional schools and the top regional and national firms for career placement immediately following college. Academic excellence and career achievements are important. However, young men and women who believe the true measures of success are found in the quality of the relationships they develop with God, family, and others and the contributions they make to society as servant leaders, will find that private, Catholic education is distinctive in how it connects and celebrates the development of the mind and the heart.

Suzanne M. Petrusch is the Vice President for Enrollment Management at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. 

2011

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