After observing the work of Lutheran World Relief in Honduras, President William Craft talks about the value of college in a recent op-ed published by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
College presidents travel a lot, often for friend and fundraising. But I recently returned from a different sort of journey, though no less bound to the mission of Concordia College. I serve on the board of Lutheran World Relief, best known for its effective, efficient responses to natural disasters. Yet day in and out, LWR focuses on partnering with local farm families to help them to grow their way out of debilitating poverty and to grow the capacity of women and men to shape their own communities for the better.
My journey took me to western Honduras, to the steep forested hills where LWR staff work with farmers to enrich the “value chain” taking coffee and cocoa from those hills to worldwide markets. Their alliance offers a path to dignity and freedom in a place strikingly beautiful but often captive to poverty and to the ruin visited on the young by narcotrafficking. I know that many Forum readers support LWR directly or through their congregations.
A group of Concordia students traveled in May 2014 with LWR to Nicaragua, a journey of faith and learning that showed them how tough-minded a good nonprofit can be: only what works to sustain farmers and families is funded; what doesn’t isn’t. To discover that doing good requires rigorous, creative thinking is one of the values of a college that graduates students who become responsibly engaged in the world.
When we talk about “college value” now, we usually mean individual return on a financial investment. That’s critical, especially now, when so many family incomes have been flat. Concordia returns that value powerfully. Our tuition is among the lowest for private four-year colleges in our state, and in the current year, the college itself covers on average 45 percent of it, not counting additional funds students may receive from federal, state, or private sources.
That’s one reason why Concordia remains a college accessible to those of modest means. Equally important, our students graduate on time: 90 percent of those who come and stay (rather than transferring or stepping out) finish in four years.
And when they graduate, they thrive. If a Concordia student applies to med school, she has an 88 percent chance of acceptance – double the national rate; if a Cobber applies to law school, he has a 9 out of 10 chance of getting in.
Yet the value of college transcends economic gain, important though it plainly is. At Concordia, we are committed to educating the whole self, for the whole life, in service to the whole world. Our graduates will be very good workers, but they will be more. They will be thoughtful, informed citizens who love the work of democracy; they will be generous souls, taking with serious joy the call to love their neighbor as they love themselves. On campus, and through engagement with professionals like those at LWR, they will discover that the world becomes a better place not merely by wishing it so, but when idealism meets the discipline to solve unscripted human problems with imagination and courage.