The tension between religious identity and academic credibility at American Protestant church-related colleges: A case study of St. Olaf College

Jeffrey Todd Snell, Marquette University

Abstract

This study investigates the problem of retaining religious identity while attaining academic credibility among Protestant church-related colleges. Of the 182 permanent American colleges founded before the Civil War, over 75 percent professed a Protestant church-related identity; of the 3,501 colleges that existed 130 years later in 1990, only 16 percent fit this description. The historical descriptive case study methodology was employed to investigate St. Olaf College (a four-year liberal arts baccalaureate college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), which met established criteria as having retained its religious identity while attaining academic credibility. The case study first considered the organizational history of St. Olaf College as background to an investigation of the three focal means through which the College balanced its religious identity-academic credibility tension: (1) the curriculum, (2) the selection and participation of faculty, and (3) the selection and participation of students. The case study concluded with the personal insights of the three living St. Olaf College presidents and the chair of the board of regents in two areas: challenges to St. Olaf's efforts to preserve its religious identity-academic credibility balance, and key areas which preserve that balance. This study addresses a growing segment of American higher education. In 1980, the total enrollment at religiously-affiliated institutions of higher education numbered 1,006,173; in 1985 it was 1,042,012; and in 1990, it climbed to 1,284,340, showing a 28 percent increase during a ten-year period. During the same period, religiously-affiliated institutions increased from 774 to 934, showing a 21 percent increase. These institutions face a challenge of balancing religious identity with academic credibility not unlike that experienced by their late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century counterparts.

Recommended Citation

Snell, Jeffrey Todd, "The tension between religious identity and academic credibility at American Protestant church-related colleges: A case study of St. Olaf College" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9719087.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9719087

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