Since 1985, the Minnesota government has funded thousands of sophomore, junior, and senior high school students who are enrolled in postsecondary courses. Given the current legislation in the Postsecondary Enrollment Options Act (PSEO Act), high schoolers can enroll in college classes from a variety of eligible institutions without paying out of pocket, allowing them to jump-start their degree and lessen future college debt.
As it currently stands, the PSEO Act defines eligible institutions broadly, mostly restricting government funding to high school students who attend accredited colleges and universities. However, new proposed legislation qualifies the definition, saying, “An eligible institution must not require a faith statement during the application process.” Under this new legislation, high school students looking for college credit would not be able to attend many seriously religious universities.
While we can rightly debate the governmental funding of education, the targeting of religious institutions is concerning, at the very least. And certainly, some Minnesotans are worried. I’ve already seen two of what I’m sure are many emails sent to former and current PSEO students—emails urging these students to contact senators and explain why the government should retain religious dual enrollment options. Many of the arguments the emails are promoting reference personal experience: In other words, students are called to defend religious institutions via explanation of their own success or appreciation of PSEO.
Though these stories are necessary, I’m not sure they address the heart of the issue, which involves how worldviews work. At its core, this legislation targets specific worldviews while promoting others, and it takes away students’ ability to pick what worldviews they want their college to hold.
Worldviews in Universities
Everybody—religious or otherwise—has a worldview. Everybody believes something: It is experientially impossible for a functioning, healthy human to have no beliefs.
By extension, since organizations are comprised of people, institutions tend to have a general worldview they embody; in other words, they usually have some belief that drives everything they do. Though not all the people within the institution may share the same worldview, every institution promotes some sort of thinking about the world. A biology professor might not explicitly commit to naturalism, for instance, but his approach to evolution might betray a naturalistic or materialistic outlook.
Thus, the distinction between religious and secular institutions springs largely from (1) whether or not an institution’s belief system is clearly expressed and (2) whether or not that belief system explicitly references God. While religious institutions tend to clearly lay out their beliefs (such as in a doctrinal statement) and make obvious references to God, secular institutions often don’t meticulously lay out their beliefs and, because of this, seldom reference God. Both institutions reference beliefs and general ideological assumptions, but the secular universities may not explicitly label such declarations as statements of worldview or religion.
Additionally, secular institutions often endorse diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ideology on their websites, which doesn’t seem far off from a doctrinal statement. To take things a step further, many institutions that claim to be non-religious require prospective students to write a DEI statement when applying to the college’s programs. Since this is essentially a statement of beliefs and worldview, shouldn’t institutions that require such materials also be affected by this new PSEO legislation?
Secular universities, just like religious ones, do promote a worldview; they just do not always do so as overtly or transparently as religious institutions. Under Minnesota’s proposed regulation, colleges that carefully and intentionally lay out their worldview (i.e., religious institutions) will be penalized, while state and non-religious institutions will be rewarded with more students and, from that, greater ideological power.
Freedom to Choose Worldviews
Does the option to attend religious colleges via government funding mean that the government is promoting a religious worldview? And, if it does, doesn’t the option to attend secular colleges also promote another worldview?
As any PSEO student knows, there’s no obligation for students to choose a religious college: High schoolers who don’t want to commit to a set of stated beliefs have plenty of secular educational options to choose from. While we shouldn’t force a worldview upon students, some high schoolers genuinely want a college experience at a religious institution. The least we can do is give them the choice.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons-McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.05 comments