FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What is the Purpose of College?

with Thomas Shaw | March 4, 2008
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You go to college to prepare for a future career, but is that the only reason? Today on the broadcast, author Thomas Shaw, vice president of student services at Moody Bible Institute, talks with Dennis Rainey about the role college plays in shaping a student's life. Tune in to find out what questions to ask yourself before making your final choice.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • You go to college to prepare for a future career, but is that the only reason? Today on the broadcast, author Thomas Shaw, vice president of student services at Moody Bible Institute, talks with Dennis Rainey about the role college plays in shaping a student's life. Tune in to find out what questions to ask yourself before making your final choice.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You go to college to prepare for a future career, but is that the only reason?

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What is the Purpose of College?

With Thomas Shaw
March 04, 2008
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Bob: Choosing the right college is a big decision in the life of a young man or a young woman, and the process that goes into making that choice can be a big pain for the student and for mom and dad.

Mom: You know, I'm not even sure he's ready for the college.  Is that a fair question to ask?

Dad: My son told me the other day he doesn't want to go to college.  Should I panic?

Dad: My son was telling me about his friend who went for a college visit, and we were just wondering, you know, he really wants to do that.  We're wondering is that a good investment of time and resources for him to go visit a campus?

Mom: I've got to children, and I was just wondering what would be a good age for me to start talking to them about that?

Dad: Every time I talk to my daughter about college, she gets all stressed about it.  I wonder what I can do to keep her from being so upset and having kind of an emotional meltdown every time we talk about it.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 4th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Have you got questions about sending a son or daughter to college?  We've got answers, stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You should see the mail that's coming in at our house, because I've got a son who he's actually still two years away …

Dennis: Credit cards.

Bob: Well, there's that, you're right about that.  In fact, we have pets who are getting applications for credit cards at our house.

Dennis: I had a friend who had an eight-month-old child who got an application for a credit card.  But you're not talking about credit card mail?

Bob: I'm talking about having a right now, a 16-year-old, a brand-new 16-year-old, who is a high school junior, and for the last nine months, we've been getting college solicitations for our son, and I'm going, "How do you even know who he is?  How have you found him?" and some of these colleges are spending quite a bit of money trying to get us to notice them and get their school on our son's radar.

Dennis: You know, this is pointed out in a book by Thomas Shaw called, "College Bound," that there is an unprecedented competition today for students that is unlike any before in the American scene, and we're fortunate to have Tom with us on the broadcast.  He is Vice President of Student Services at Moody Bible Institute, a little school up in Chicago, has, what, 3,000 how many students?

Tom: Just about 4,000 students all told.

Dennis: Okay, been around since what year?

Tom: 1886.

Dennis: 1886?

Tom: That's right.

Dennis: Our friend, Michael Easley is, of course, the president of that school, and you wrote this book to really help parents like Bob sort through the mail and know how to make this choice, right?

Tom: Exactly, I can relate, yeah, and the mail seems to come earlier and earlier.  We have a 13-year-old, 14-year-old, 16-year-old, and an 18-year-old, and so every day there is college stuff coming in and, you're right, there is a large competition for colleges to attract the attention of these kids.

Bob: You know, when I first noticed this happening was right after my son took the PSAT as a practice exam his sophomore year.  Because you take the PSAT your junior year for real, right?

Tom: That's right.

Bob: But in your sophomore year at our kids' school, they have them take the PSAT just so they get used to taking a test and get a feel for it.  Well, as soon as he was done with the PSAT, all of a sudden, bing, the mail starts coming and, boy, "We want you to know" and, "John, we've noticed you," and it's very personalized, and it's very it flatters you to get something from some college you've never heard of, and they say, "You are obviously an outstanding young student."

Tom: Yeah, that's definitely right.  Here's a stat that will blow your mind a national study recently showed that 66 percent of eighth graders had narrowed down their college choices to three, and the same study showed that 87 percent of second-semester juniors had already made their final college choice.

And so what that means is that we, as parents, typically think about our kids choosing a college junior, senior year, meanwhile, our kids are being influenced by messages through the mail, through the Internet, through watching big-time sports.  They are being influenced towards certain colleges and universities, and so it's really important for parents to be conversing with their students on these kinds of things, even if it is middle school and early high school years.

Dennis: I'll tell you, we really do have it good here in America.  I mean, all you have to do is travel to some foreign countries.  I've been in the former Soviet Union, I've been to China and have heard some of the competition to be able to go to colleges and universities, and it is not a foregone conclusion that you are even going to be able to get into any institution in those countries.

But today college education is very available and affordable for even families that need to take out loans.

Bob: And the majority of students who are graduating from high school are going on to college, right?

Tom: That's right, just around 62 percent go into some sort of post-secondary college or university.

Dennis: Okay, Tom, let me ask you a very, very fundamental question, all right?

Tom: Yes.

Dennis: What is the purpose of college?

Tom: The purpose of college is to broaden and deepen individuals mentally in that period of time where they are struggling with the independence, they're thinking about their background, their upbringing, and they'll kind of unpack the whole being, and their faith included, during those college years, and much of the decisions they make, the things they pick up in those university classes and residence halls, fraternities or whatever that's going to be replicated through most of their adult life.  So it's really an important period of time in a student's upbringing.

Dennis: It's really designed to finish equipping a young person for life.

Bob: Not just for a vocation.

Dennis: Exactly.  I look back on the relationships I established at the university my wife.  Friends that I'm in ministry today with; friends that I've stayed in touch with much more than some of my high school buddies.  The college years are a determinative set of years for any person who is finishing the process of growing up, and it's why a parent, I think, needs to be aware of the statistics you just shared.  In fact, I can't believe an eighth grader even has that on their radar screen.  I don't even know if I knew colleges existed when I was 13 or 14 years old.

But young people today are being forced to make these choices, these decisions.  How is a parent to guide and direct their child as they begin this process?  Where is the place to start, Tom?

Tom: I think a great place to start it's a real common question to say, "What would you like to be someday?  What would you like to do someday?" and it gets the young person thinking about maybe "What have I seen other people do as far as jobs and vocations?" and usually that relates to what their parents do or maybe people in their church or in their school.

So that's the way to open the door to start conversing with your child about what they might like to do and, many times, that's somewhat limited in perspective just because their world is pretty narrow at that point.  But you can use that, as a parent, to talk to them about, "Did you know that there is also careers here is so-and-so in our church that does this type of vocation," maybe they're a lawyer, or maybe they work in the food service industry, or maybe they work in medicine or pharmaceuticals.  So you can start broadening their perspective and just intentionally, throughout the life, walking along the road, as you see things in vocation and say, "Hey, there's a job that people do.  Have you ever thought about something like that?"  So I think that's a good place to start.

Dennis: There are a couple of things that we did I want you to comment on.  One is, as our children emerge through adolescence into sophomore, junior, senior year and, again, we weren't nearly as ahead of the curve as you're talking about parents needing to be today, but we began to talk with them about what they're good at what the child likes to do, where we saw them excel, where we saw them motivated, where we saw them sinking their teeth into things.

A second thing we did with one of our children who was a bit of an enigma.  We just couldn't figure out exactly what he'd like to do, and it was our son, Samuel, and part of that was because of a physical handicap that had struck him early in adolescence and took him out of all sports, and he wasn't much into academics and didn't really enjoy that side of high school, and so we sent him to Dallas to do an aptitude training test, and I forget, I think it cost maybe $500, $600, something like that, plus getting down there and back, but it gave a printout of where his interests were.

And I can't say that it solved all the problems, but it did help guide us in the process, and it really is important for a parent to look at their son or daughter's life and look at their track record and see where they've been motivated and where they've excelled and to help them spot what they're good at, right?

Tom: That's exactly right, and some of those assessments, and there are some online assessments that can do similar things to what you and Barbara did with Samuel, and those can be very important.  And even when students take the ACT test, on the back of that form, if you'll recall that, there is a world of work, and it kind of breaks down into different types of vocations and areas of service, and even those things can be cues into what your son or daughter may be good at.

Bob: Yes, we've got links on our website to some of those resources that you're talking about and can point parents in that direction.  My son is thinking about different career options, and some of those have caused him to say, "I wonder if I ought to look at some of the Ivy schools?  Some of the elite Eastern schools, and I don't even presume that he could get in or that I could afford it, either one, right?  But there is also a side of me going, "Is that a safe place?"  I mean, are there schools that you would look at and say, "I don't care who the kid is" …

Dennis: It's sending them like Daniel into a lion's den.

Bob: You would be boy, I could just never encourage a parent to send a child to that particular school.

Tom: Yes, I think you have to really in those instances where you have great hesitation, you know, buyer beware.  Check it out carefully and, really, as a parent, you can exert some influence in those instances and say "That may be a choice, but here are some other ones that really look like they fit a lot better than what you're considering.

Bob: You know, we had Donald Miller on FamilyLife Today a number of months ago, and he's written a book, "Blue Like Jazz," and he talks about his own experience in that book of going to Reed College in Oregon, which is, I guess, one of the more liberal schools in America, at least that's how he characterizes it.  And I think there are a lot of young people who read about his experience at Reed and how he was able to influence students on that campus, and they think, "That's cool.  I want to be in a place like that."

If your son or daughter has that kind of a mindset, does that mean, "Okay, then, maybe a place like Reed is okay for them?"

Tom: It very well could be, but it's important to check it out carefully and tie into some faculty that are on that campus and check out their credentials and maybe set up an interview with them when you go on campus to do a visit, or phone them, and just find out more about what that major will be like and what the experience of your young person would be in class and in the laboratories with those kinds of folks.

Dennis: You talk about helping a child determine what he or she is interested in vocationally, and that helps them select a college.  We have, before us, one of the most helpful tools that probably has ever been invented to begin to research colleges and universities the Internet.  Share with a parent what they ought to do if they are going to use the Internet in terms of researching possibilities for their children.

Tom: One of the first places to start is to determine some criteria things that are important to you.  So if you know what major or vocation your child is interested in, that can be a criterion.  If you know if they want to stay in a small town, or if they want to go to a big city, if there is interest in being a certain extracurricular interest, such if they want to be in a major university marching band, or maybe they have a horse that they want to take to college with them, a school that would have an equestrian program.  Those are criteria that you want to define and then go to the Internet and use search engines that are available, and those will help you narrow down those choices of colleges that fit your criteria.  So that's really the easiest way and the best advice I could give.

Bob: Let's say you're Googling you way around trying to get some of this neighbor, and your son or your daughter says, "You know, I think I'd really like to study anthropology, and I'd like it to be at a school where you can study abroad for a semester, because I think that would be fun, and I'd like there to be an equestrian program."

Dennis: (laughs).

Bob: Why are you laughing?

Dennis: Well, I mean, what child isn't going to select …

Bob: Who doesn't want that, right?

Dennis: The bells and whistles.

Bob: How do you, as a parent, help your child get the idea that we're talking about college, not summer camp, for four years, you know?

Tom: Yeah, and there is some serious study going into anthropology and equestrian studies, so there are places that specialize in that.

Bob: I'm just trying to think about the job you're going to get when you graduate with your anthropology degree, the thing you'll say most often at work is, "Would you like fries with that," right?

Tom: Well, you're ready to take the GRE and go to grad school to specialize.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: It's just a good thing, Bob, you're not a teenager again, and you're not making the selection with all your experience, where you'd go to school.  You'd drive your parents crazy with all the benefits you'd be looking for.

You know, one of the things you just mentioned, Tom, was helping your child make a decision, and I think one of the most helpful things we did, as a couple, is Barbara and I sat down, and we determined, with each of our children, the criteria for making a good decision.  And so we weighted education, church involvement, spiritual movements on the campus, access to relationships and on-campus living, and some other values that the child held important.  And then we went through, and we weighted each of those four or five values and gave them a 10, 15, 20, maybe a 30 percent weight, and we would evaluate each campus looking at those values.

And it's not going to make your decision for you, but it will reveal some very important findings, and it may be what tips you over the edge in terms of ultimately choosing a Christian college or university. 

And, you know, I can't have a vice president with Moody here on our broadcast without talking about what is Moody's niche in the educational arena?  You really serve a very, very narrow niche, but one that has a lot of benefits to a young person who wants to make a difference in today's world?

Tom: That's right.  Moody really specializes in training people for full-time ministry, and it's exciting to be in a place where students are so focused on Christ, growing in Him in their biblical knowledge and networking with ministries that come on campus to recruit them.  It's tremendous, and Moody is a hotbed of future Christian leaders doing ministry work.

Bob: Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, you left out the magic words.  We were expecting you to say the magic words about Moody.

Tom: Online education?

Bob: No.

Dennis: No, I know where Bob's going to.

Bob: Heads up before you talk about the unique mission of Moody, you just say to the parents, let me tell you the first thing about Moody tuition paid.  Then you can tell them whatever else you want, because you have their attention at that moment.

Tom: That's true.

Bob: Now, you do pay for housing, you pay for food and for books and all that …

Tom: We pay for room and board.

Bob: Tuition is paid for students at Moody.

Dennis: And we tried like crazy to get our daughter interested.

Bob: You know, we chuckle about this, but this whole issue of what college is going to cost is an issue that for a lot of parents today is daunting.  They're looking around, and they're thinking, "You know, ideally, I would like for my student not to have college loans."  In fact, we said to our children, "We'll help you in the college decision.  Here is the amount of money that we have available for where you want to go.  If you want to go somewhere that costs more than that, you've got to figure out how to get there without loans.  If you want to go somewhere that costs less than that, you can have what's left over when school is over," and that was a part of the decision-making matrix that we had for them in that process.  But we were really trying to steer them away from the loan option.  Is that a reality for most parents today?  Is that really an option?

Tom: Most parents would like to avoid the loans, but the reality is, given the cost of education and the amount that they're saving for college in advance, it's really difficult to make it through the four years of college without doing some student loans.  I would say, "Parents, if you can avoid student loans, make it the last resort rather than the first consideration and try to finance the education in other ways."

Bob: Let's say your financial situation was such that you had enough money that your daughter could go to two years of community college and then two years at a state university, you could afford that.  But if it was four years at the state university, you wouldn't be able to afford that.  That would take loans to make that happen.  But your daughter really wants to go to four years at the state university, all of her friends are going off to the state university.

Dennis: You're asking a Moody guy this.

Bob: Yeah, he'd say, "Forget the state university, go to Moody.  Tuition-free, honey."  What would you decide?

Tom: I think it really depends.  It could work both ways.  It could be an issue where the two years of junior college or community college would give them kind of a head start as far as their general education classes at an inexpensive price and then be able to finish perhaps without loans.  But the four years, yeah, if it's going to be a show-stopper, then if it's that important to the daughter, and the parents are okay with it, to do some loans.

But before even doing loans, I really encourage parents to consider looking at outside scholarships.  There are civic organizations and corporations, churches, even grandparents are helping finance the education of their grandkids.  So, really, if you can avoid the loans, it's really important.

Bob: And CLEP can also help reduce some of the cost of college.  You CLEP out of some classes, or you take AP tests and get out of some classes, and it's possible, too, that your son or daughter may take some summer school courses at the local university that help defer the cost of a four-year at the state university, right?

Tom: That's right.  You just chip away a little bit at a time like that, and it eliminates the amount of time you have to spend at the four-year experience.

Dennis: You know, we got on this a little too late with each of our children, but I've been amazed over the years to see how a student who is very adept online can search out and find grants, scholarships, and all kinds of special deals to students for all kinds of reasons.  Is there anyplace to go to begin your search to look for these kinds of grants and benefits for your student?

Tom: Yes, there are several websites that are real helpful.  One is; another is, and another is  And those are programs where you enter in some personal information and then it kicks out what scholarships you would match up for, and then it gives you the application procedures and process to go about trying to apply for those.

Bob: Once again, we've got links to those sites on our website at, so if our listeners want to go to our website and click on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast," it will take you to an area of the site where those links are located.  There is also information there about the book that Tom has written, which is called "College Bound," which is a great resource for moms and dads, especially if you have a 9th grader, 10th grader, 11th grader, even a senior who has already made a college decision, there is still a lot in this book you can look at that will help you prepare your son or your daughter for the experience that they are about to have on the college campus.

Again, go to our website,, and, by the way, it's a brand-new look for the website.  When you look on the right side of the screen, you will see a box that says, "Today's Broadcast," click that area, it will take you to the part of the site where there is more information about Tom's book and links to the sites we've talked about today. 

There is also information about a graduation gift that you could give to a high school senior, if you know somebody who is going to be graduating.  This is a CD-DVD combination package that includes music from some of the top Christian bands in the country today Reliant K, Switchfoot, Stellar Kart, Toby Mack, Flyleaf, Disciple, and in addition to the package for students, we want to send along an additional CD that's for mom and dad, and on this CD Dennis and Barbara Rainey give counsel to parents about how to make the most of the last few weeks you have with your son or daughter before the child goes off to college or the military or a career or wherever that son or daughter is going.

Again, there is information on our website about the special CD package that's a great gift idea for graduation, or you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, if you'd like more information.  You can order these resources over the phone 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Someone on our team will let you know how you can get the resources you need sent out to you.

Let me also say a quick word of thanks to the folks who listen to FamilyLife Today and who, from time to time, get in touch with us to help support this ministry.  We are listener-supported.  It's folks like you who make a donation from time to time who help keep this program on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country.

And this month, if you are able to help with a donation, we would like to send you a DVD.  In fact, this is the most viewed motion picture in history.  It's been seen by more people around the world than any other movie every made.  It's the "Jesus" film on DVD.  It's a faithful retelling of the story of Jesus's life from the Gospel of Luke.  In addition to the movie being on the DVD, there is a presentation called "The Story of Jesus" for children, and after you've had a chance to watch this, you may want to pass it along to someone.  The movie has been dubbed into Spanish and German and Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and so if you know somebody who speaks one of those languages as a native speaker, you can pass along the story of Jesus, and they can watch it in their own language.

Again, we're happy to send this DVD out to you when you make a donation of any amount this month for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you are making that donation online, when you fill out the donation form, and you come to the keycode box, type in "JesusDVD," all as one word "JesusDVD," and we'll know to send a copy of this out to you.

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, you can make a donation over the phone and mention that you'd like the Jesus film on DVD.  Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us, and we appreciate your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Dennis?

Dennis: Bob, I guess upon reflection of what we've been listening to this week, I just regret I didn't know Tom about 15, 20 years ago before …

Bob: Aw, your kids would have been Razorbacks, anyway, right?

Dennis: They might have slipped in under the wire at Moody.  I know that Moody turns down a lot of students, but, anyway, Tom, I really appreciate you and the institution you work with, Moody Bible Institute, what a great school, and there are many other fine Christian universities and colleges across the country that have been faithful to the Scriptures and the Gospel, and I just appreciate your work in this book and your work with tomorrow's leaders.  We have to have you being successful and guiding the next generation.  We are going to need them.  Thanks for being on the broadcast.

Tom: Thanks, it was great to be with you this week.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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