What is the special value of a faithful Catholic college education?
A faithful Catholic college provides an open and healthy environment for serious consideration of ideas without the tyranny of harassment, political correctness, or enforced relativism. The same cannot be said for many secular institutions. At the colleges featured in this Guide, students will also find a vibrant Catholic culture on campus that respects Catholic moral teaching and offers numerous opportunities for spiritual development. Although every campus varies, differences from the typical secularized Catholic campus might include a more active Catholic campus ministry, respect for Catholic values in areas including residential life and campus programs, active pro-life and social justice efforts, community outreach programs, Catholic study groups, etc.
How are academic offerings different at a Newman Guide college?
The courses you take in college — and the professors who teach them — vary greatly from place to place. College is a big investment! You want to be sure that a college’s academic program prepares you for career and life.
Today, most colleges hold biases in nearly every subject area. They’ve abandoned a traditional core curriculum in the liberal arts. They push progressive ideologies that are anti-Christian.
But the best colleges aren’t afraid of Catholic ideas:
- They teach theology and philosophy alongside science and the humanities.
- They consider the ethics of every discipline.
- They teach reasoning and communication in addition to facts and skills.
At the faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, every subject begins with the truth of God and creation—from engineering to nursing to business. Other colleges simply ignore reality… but what kind of education is that?
What is a core curriculum?
General education requirements typically help ensure a foundation in the traditional liberal arts; at a Catholic college, these should include Catholic theology and philosophy. It is the mark of a good college that students learn not only specialized skills, but also how to think and communicate clearly, how to organize knowledge and thought, and how to apply the truths of the Catholic Faith in their lives. There are two common types of general education. A “core” curriculum is a set of particular courses that every student must take. It reflects a college’s conviction that particular knowledge and subjects ought to be considered and shared by all students. At many colleges, however, what is labeled a “core” may be more properly described as a “distribution” curriculum. This allows for some flexibility in choosing electives within required disciplines, so that not every student takes the precise same courses. Interdisciplinary study, which helps students relate truth across disciplines and is encouraged in Ex corde Ecclesiae, is most possible in a core curriculum but may also occur within any well-designed course.
What’s the value of a liberal arts foundation?
Faithful Catholic colleges offer a wide variety of majors, each beginning with a well-rounded core curriculum focused on the liberal arts. You’ll study the great works of mankind and come to a fuller understanding of God, creation, philosophy, history and science.
You’ll learn facts and the reasons behind the facts. You’ll learn skills and how to serve humanity in your career. You’ll learn how to think clearly and rationally in any situation.
A traditional liberal arts core, focused on the classics and intellectual formation, has great practical value. Studies find that 93% of employers value critical thinking skills more than a person’s college major. And here are some headlines from 2019:
- Lesson of the Day: “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint, But English Majors Endure” (New York Times)
- Why Hiring Managers Value a Liberal Arts Education (Times Record News)
- Studying STEM Isn’t the Career Boost We Think (Forbes)
- Liberal Arts Degree? No Degree at All? You Are the Perfect Candidate for a Tech Job (CNBC)
- Yes, Employers Do Value Liberal Arts Degrees (Harvard Business Review)
- Why Liberal Arts Is Critical for Building a Successful Business Career (Forbes)
I consider myself more a “doer” rather than a “thinker.” Should I avoid colleges that place a premium on theology and philosophy courses?
No, that would be a mistake. Everyone should be concerned with “First Things”— the natural and supernatural truths that lie at the root of all knowledge and activity—and the best way to do so is to understand what they are and how to address them. You would shortchange yourself by avoiding these academic areas.
How important is it to select a college with a vibrant spiritual life?
It is critical. While most people assume that colleges help provide a good education and prepare young people for careers, it is also a time for them to strengthen their spiritual life as they mature into adulthood. The best way to be so formed is to be in an atmosphere where the spiritual life, inside and outside the classroom, is emphasized and nurtured. A Catholic college that does this is fulfilling its role.
Is there an ideal residence hall arrangement?
In general, yes. The “hook-up culture” is real and can be a danger to students’ spiritual, psychological, and physical health. Single-sex dorms help students avoid this culture and live chaste lives. Of course, the ultimate responsibility falls on the shoulders of the students, but we believe Catholic colleges have a responsibility to have living arrangements and visitation policies which help students live chaste lives. Residence halls which provide an atmosphere where chastity is expected are to be especially commended. There are some instances where colleges have males and females in the same dormitory but restrict males and females to different wings or even floors. This may reflect a college’s space or financial limitations. Such an arrangement, while not ideal, might be workable provided the college maintains strict and careful supervision. These arrangements bear close inspection by parents and students.
Alcohol consumption seems to be a problem on college campuses, even at good Catholic colleges. What does this mean for a parent?
Underage and binge drinking are widespread problems and seem to reflect a general permissiveness within the broader society. It is imperative that parents discuss the issue candidly with their son or daughter. While colleges can and do address the issue through lectures and strict policies, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual student to do the right thing.
How is campus life different at a Newman Guide college?
Life outside the classroom should be fun and exciting – and it should help you grow into adulthood. Clubs, sports and social time prepare you for life, career and vocation.
On most college campuses, the lifestyle strongly contradicts Catholic values. Even many Catholic colleges host student clubs, performances, campus speakers and events that oppose Catholic teaching.
But a truly faithful Catholic college strives to form the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. You’ll be stretched to become the fully human person that God wants you to be. You’ll find a culture that respects chastity, charity and virtue.
And you’ll make good friends who share your priorities and values — the sort of friendships that can last a lifetime! They’ll help you navigate the many changes in your life that lie ahead.
What is the mandatum?
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The mandatum is fundamentally an acknowledgement by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.” According to Canon Law, every Catholic theology professor must receive the mandatum from the local bishop. Sadly many Catholic colleges refuse to identify theology professors who have the mandatum, and they may not require it as a condition of employment. Colleges in The Newman Guide are different; see their policies in the Q&A section for each college on their online profile.
What is Ex corde Ecclesiae?
It is the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education issued by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1990. The document identifies what constitutes Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities and specifies General Norms to achieve a Catholic mission. These Norms are binding on Catholic colleges as an application of Canon Law. In 1999 the U.S. bishops approved guidelines to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae in the United States; these became effective in 2001. Compliance by the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities varies widely. Clearly, a Catholic institution that minimizes or subverts Ex corde Ecclesiae, which has the force of Canon Law, has serious problems with its Catholic identity. All colleges recommended in this Guide enthusiastically support and abide by Ex corde Ecclesiae.
Some of the colleges in The Newman Guide are small, even very small. Should I be concerned about attending a college with a small student body?
Certainly not. Small colleges can provide great individual attention to student needs. They can help students gain confidence in classroom discussions, develop good relationships with faculty members, and forge friendships with other students. But small colleges are not for everyone. Some students prefer the opportunity to interact with a wider range of students, participate in more activities, and take advantage of broader course offerings. A student needs to evaluate whether he or she is comfortable with the size of the college based on needs and personality.
Why are there so few larger universities in The Newman Guide?
We recommend colleges that actively live their Catholic identity. Sometimes the larger universities, in an attempt to build a national secular reputation as a research university, feel the need to de-emphasize their Catholicism. Some call it academic freedom or even just diversity, but it often unhinges a college from its traditional Catholic moorings. A large Catholic university can be faithful to its identity if it so chooses. We are hopeful that more will begin to recognize that academic excellence, freedom of inquiry, national reputation, and Catholic identity are all compatible.
What about other Catholic colleges that aren’t recommended in The Newman Guide?
There are more than 200 Catholic colleges in the United States, but The Newman Guide only recommends 15 of them (plus several non-residential, international, and online ones).
Many Catholics who are unfamiliar with the state of Catholic higher education are often shocked to hear this. Why recommend only a small percentage of America’s Catholic colleges?
For one thing, we don’t include schools that offer only or primarily graduate degrees. The Newman Guide is focused on undergraduate education. The colleges that are included are evaluated only for their undergraduate experience, even when graduate degrees are offered.
Second, we strive to identify and recommend model Catholic colleges. These are the very best with regard to Catholic identity, and often in many other respects. Although we are always open to including additional colleges that meet our criteria for Catholic identity, we like it to be known that these colleges are examples for others to follow.
The colleges that are not in The Newman Guide display varied attention to Catholic identity. Families who are looking at other colleges will want to be cautious and investigate carefully to determine just how secular the college has become. But we don’t believe that protecting the souls of Catholic students is a minor concern; it is the chief concern for a Catholic parent. Even a lukewarm Catholic college can have a devastating impact on a Catholic student, so we caution strongly when considering any college not in The Newman Guide.
Put bluntly, the majority of Catholic colleges have lost sight of what it means to be Catholic. You can visit many Catholic campuses with little or no indication of their religious mission. The Cardinal Newman Society has kept a close watch for more than two decades, and we’ve seen countless examples of professors undermining the faith, liturgical abuse, promotion of pro-abortion politicians, and the “hook-up” culture pervading dorm life.
An in-depth study a few years ago found that nearly 1 in 8 Catholic students at a Catholic college leaves the faith by graduation. Moreover, students are more likely to move away from Church teaching than towards it on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Mass attendance drops for about one third of students who attend a Catholic college. Over the years, we have heard from many heartbroken parents with kids who lost their faith after attending a Catholic college—usually at great financial expense to their family.
Lest parents think that a secular education is a better option, know that the stats are worse for students who attend state or private secular institutions. Not so long ago, these could be viewed as at least neutral with regard to matters of faith. Today that is no longer the case in many classrooms, and campus life is often a terrible test of a students’ moral fiber — even for the most virtuous men and women.
Fully aware of the crisis in Catholic education, we resolved to create a resource to help Catholic families navigate the search for authentic Catholic colleges. There are plenty of college guide books out there, and it’s easy to find out whether or not an institution simply claims to be Catholic. So instead of producing just another fact sheet, we decided to offer recommendations for the Catholic colleges that take their faith seriously.
We initially sent out surveys to every Catholic college in the country, conducted hundreds of phone interviews, and spent countless hours researching the important details. The number of colleges we could recommend quickly narrowed, but there were still a few institutions for which it was difficult to decide.
The University of Notre Dame was one of the hard choices. At the time there were faithful professors and students on campus (and there still are). But there were also clear examples of opposition to the faith from many on campus.
In order to resolve our dilemma, we spoke with the late Dr. Charles Rice, a faithful Catholic and long-time law professor at Notre Dame. He helped us find the bottom line. He said that at Notre Dame, “a kid who is struggling with his faith will sink like a stone.”
We have used Dr. Rice’s advice as a lodestar for The Newman Guide ever since. While we vet each institution thoroughly, if we do not feel that students will have a reasonable chance of receiving strong support in the faith at a given Catholic college, we do not recommend it.
Over years since our conversation with Dr. Rice, our basis of evaluation has expanded and deepened. We consider all aspects of college life as it relates to Catholic identity, including faculty, theology, core curricula, majors, campus ministry, residence life, student activities, student body, and institutional identity and leadership.
The Cardinal Newman Society is committed to giving Catholic families recommendations for the Catholic colleges that are faithfully Catholic from the top down, inside and out.
What questions should I ask a Catholic college that’s NOT in The Newman Guide?
If you are interested in a Catholic college that’s not in The Newman Guide, we have prepared a shortened version of our Catholic higher education questionnaire. It can help you know what questions to ask during phone calls, emails, and campus meetings with admissions officers. But please be aware that the Newman Society does not recommend any secular or Catholic college that is not included in The Newman Guide.
What portion of your professors are practicing Catholics? Do you keep track? Do you strive to hire faithful Catholic professors?
Are professors required to maintain and strengthen the Catholic identity of the institution? Must they respect Catholic teaching and comply with Catholic morality in their public actions and statements, both on and off campus?
Is there a department of Catholic theology, distinct from “religious studies” and other disciplines?
Are Catholic theology courses clearly identified and distinguished from other courses dealing with religion?
Do all theology professors have a mandatum as required by Canon Law? Do they make the Catholic Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity?
Do you require that theology courses be faithful to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium, and also to the principles and methods proper to Catholic theology?
What are the theology courses that are included in the undergraduate core or distribution requirements?
What are the courses that every student must take? What other courses satisfy “distribution requirements”?
Is every undergraduate student required to take one or more courses in which they are taught authentic Catholic doctrine and practice? What are they? Can you describe them?
Programs of Study
Does every degree program require formation in Catholic ethics, related to the particular field of study?
Are there regular academic events to address theological questions related to specialized disciplines?
Chaplaincy or Campus Ministry
Does your institution offer Mass on campus at least on Sundays and other days of obligation?
What portion of students attend Sunday Mass during the academic year? How many attend daily Mass?
Are Masses reverent and in accord with the Church’s liturgical norms and directives?
How many days a week is Confession offered?
What opportunities are there for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?
What other devotions are regularly scheduled for students, such as the Rosary and prayer groups?
Are there programs to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life?
How many graduates are ordained to the priesthood or have entered religious life?
What percentage of students living on campus live in single-sex residence halls?
If there are co-ed residence halls, how are students of the opposite sex separated (by wing, floor, or other)?
Are students of the opposite sex permitted to visit students’ bedrooms? If yes, when? Must doors be open?
How do you promote chastity in campus residences?
How do you foster sobriety and respond to substance abuse on campus, particularly in campus residences?
Do you have programs to foster Catholic prayer life and spirituality in campus residences?
Student Activities and Services
What are the officially recognized student clubs and activities at your institution that address sexual issues (including birth control, abortion, homosexuality)?
Do you require all student clubs and activities to operate in accord with Catholic teaching?
How do you address student clubs and activities that may conflict with Catholic teaching?
Do you require student services like health care, counseling, and guidance to be faithful to Catholic teaching?
What is the percentage of Catholic students?
What percentage of students graduated from a Catholic high school?
What percentage of students were homeschooled?
Has your diocesan bishop officially recognized the college as Catholic?
Do your governing documents require compliance with the Vatican’s constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex corde Ecclesiae?
Do you have a written policy regarding speakers and honorees, which at a minimum meets the standards established by the United States bishops in “Catholics in Political Life?”
How do you address student and faculty invitations to speakers and honorees who have publicly opposed or acted contrary to Catholic moral teaching?
Are your trustees required to maintain and strengthen the Catholic identity of your institution?
Are most of your trustees practicing Catholics?
Do the Catholic trustees make the Catholic Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity?
Is your president a practicing Catholic?
Does the president make the Catholic Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity?
Why are DeSales University and Mount St. Mary’s University no longer recommended in The Newman Guide?
We take seriously our role in recommending Catholic colleges to families and have done extensive work this year in dialoguing with presidents, other officials, professors, students, and families affiliated with DeSales University and Mount St. Mary’s University regarding their Catholic identity. After careful review, we have decided not to recommend these universities to Catholic families for the 2019-20 edition of The Newman Guide. Our recommendations do not hinge on any single issue, but rather they depend on comprehensive reviews of the institutions. We have been proud to recommend both institutions in the past, but we are no longer able to hold up these institutions as exemplary models of strong Catholic identity and to assure families that they will find consistency and firm witness to the Catholic faith throughout the undergraduate program.
The Newman Guide colleges greatly interest me. What do I do next?
Sign-up for our “Recruit Me” program so that Newman Guide colleges can begin recruiting you! Next, thoroughly investigate the various college’s websites. If you have questions, e-mail them to the appropriate college representative. Read the campus newspapers (many are online) to learn more about what’s happening on campus—what are the issues, what are the problems, what do students seem to care about? When you feel you have enough information to winnow down your list, visit each campus that has made the cut. The campus visit is essential. Talk to students there, wander around the campus, explore the town, attend Mass and campus events, and speak forthrightly with college representatives. May God bless your search!