The Council of Religious Organizations for the University of Arkansas meets monthly during the academic year in Room 305 of the Union. It's a nice space, celebrating the history of African-American students on campus. However, no African-American groups were represented in our meeting. This time around, the group included representatives from the Presbyterian (United) campus ministry, Anglican, Roman Catholic, a variety of evangelical and baptist groups (sorry, I don't remember them all. * I was impressed with the longevity of some campus ministers, a couple are in the 25th and 30th years respectively of campus ministry at the U of A), Hillel, and YoungLife.
Today Daniel Pugh was the presenter, and gave us updated information on the growth of the university and the student body, and the impact that has on their ability to provide counseling, support, housing, etc. If memory serves, they were at 20,000 students just a year or two ago, and this year they are at 24,000, anticipating a student body of 25,000 in 2012-2013. This is growth way beyond what they had expected. The reasons for it are many, including a special lottery grant that provided low tuition, low tuition for out-of-state neighbors (a large percentage of whom come from Texas), and a growing reputation nationally for the quality of the school, which leads to them drawing in more out of state students (currently their ratio is 53% in state, 47% out of state).
Some interesting facts. First, the ratio of students on campus with a 4.0 has increased. Students with grade points like that make use of counseling and other services more often. So they are looking at needing to provide new and deepened support resources if the general grade point of the student body goes up.
Similarly, the much larger number of incoming freshman this year has caused a revolution in the Greek programs on campus. Pledging, etc. is way up. This is actually very good for the fraternities and sororities, it requires them to step up the quality of what they offer, gives them more revenue to work with to provide housing and meals, etc.
However, the university is dealing with a lot of space and housing issues. Additionally, an increasing number of students are food scarce, and rely on food banks and other resources to eat. Arkansas has a high rate of poverty, and a low ratio of college graduates. One of the goals of the university is to build a knowledge economy in the state, and to leverage the work of the university to produce new jobs and innovation in the state and especially Northwest Arkansas that leverage new funding and support for the university.
I found all of this quite fascinating, and it really does help those of us who are developing new or nurturing existing religious organizations on campus. We can see how we might contribute to the whole, how our role fits within (or in juxtaposition to) the larger system.
I was especially intrigued by the university's commitment to using the Gallup Strengthsfinder resource with all students, and in all areas of academic and extracurricular life. I can already imagine some creative ways we might offer conversation and discipleship around spiritual gifts that meshes well with that inventory, and might be some ways to help students relate their academic and professional development to their spiritual development. I especially wish I could encourage the university to offer guidance to incoming students on the importance of connecting intentionally to a religious community, of establishing patterns of giving and service, and seeing study abroad and interfaith, multi-ethnic conversation and life as integral to their development as students and people.
Of course then our religious organizations would have to model and teach that as well. :)
* My best excuse on this is somewhat lame, but goes as follows: if you say you're with a church, but you don't give me something to latch on to, like a tradition, history, denomination, etc., it's hard for me to be clear on who you are or what you represent. Are you creedal, biblical, denominational, confessional? What are you? That's my question. I know needing to ask this is a failure on my part, but nevertheless is where I'm at.