Most colleges first established in the Colonial period were designed to train religious leaders. Colleges were often founded by religious organizations and supported with public money. Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Brown all shared the primary purpose of preparing young men for the ministry, the major difference being theology. Today, these institutions no longer claim any religious affiliation although Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all still maintain Divinity/Theological Schools.
According to the Integrate Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), there are currently 552 private colleges and universities with 500 or more full-time undergraduates with religious affiliations. This accounts for just under 60% of all private institutions. These include institutions easily recognized for their religious affiliations including Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Baylor, and Boston College.
However, it also includes schools such as Duke, Emory, Davidson, Lafayette, and Macalester. These are often historic affiliations and actually have little to do with current academics, culture, or student behavior. At other colleges, however, the religious affiliation affects who is hired, which subjects are taught, student dress, and how often students must attend chapel.
If you’re trying to determine the influence of affiliation on the institution, you can get a pretty good idea by visiting the college’s webpage and looking under the About section. To get a sense of the differences take a look at Davidson College, affiliated with the Presbyterians, and Wheaton College, an undenominational affiliation.
The Christian tradition to which Davidson remains committed recognizes God as the source of all truth, and believes that Jesus Christ is the revelation of that God, a God bound by no church or creed. The loyalty of the college thus extends beyond the Christian community to the whole of humanity and necessarily includes openness to and respect for the world’s various religious traditions.
You won’t find the words “biblical” or “covenant” anywhere in the statement.
You will find it on the Wheaton College website. According to its Educational Purpose “The curricular approach is designed to combine faith and learning in order to produce a biblical perspective needed to relate Christian experience to the demands of those needs.” Wheaton College also states that “We desire to build this covenant on basic biblical standards for godly Christian character and behavior.”
Although both list religious affiliations, these are two very different institutions.
If you’re trying to find a non-Catholic Christian college with a strong religious presence, you should try searching the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. The members of the Christian College Consortium offers an exchange program among their campuses.
IPEDS list over 50 different religious affiliations with the largest being Roman Catholic. With 173 affiliated institutions, Roman Catholic schools easily exceed the combined total of the next three largest denominations, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church, and Baptist.
The top 11 categories represent three-quarters of all religiously affiliated institutions. Of the 48 colleges where 10% or more of undergraduates graduate with degrees in theology, none are affiliated with the three largest denominations.
On average, religiously affiliated colleges had lower average net prices than non-affiliated private colleges, $21,028 to $24,610. They also had lower four-year graduation rates 41.7% for religiously affiliated colleges compared to 49.7% for non-religiously affiliated private colleges. However, religiously affiliated schools had a higher percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants while a lower average endowment per student when compare to non-affiliated private colleges. Over 40% of 50-50 schools have religious affiliations.
It’s important to note that these averages can change dramatically by denomination. Eleven denominations had 4-year graduation rates higher than the average for non-affiliated private schools including Presbyterian and Interdenominational colleges.
The average endowment per student for any denomination failed to exceed that of the non-affiliated private colleges. Eleven denominations had lower percentages of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants compared to the non-affiliated private average of 34%. These include the Presbyterian Church at 30% and Roman Catholics at 33%. The average for United Methodist was 40% and 45% for Baptist.
The table below lists the number of colleges by religious affiliation and selected characteristics. All of this information is available in the DIY College Search Spreadsheet.
College Characteristics by Religious Affiliations
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|Avg % |
|Avg Net |
Gift Aid (2012-2013)
|African Methodist Episcopal||2||1155||6||87||13074||28.8|
|African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church||1||1610||11||83||14763||25.5|
|American Evangelical Lutheran Church||1||72835||31||40||18588||9.7|
|Assemblies of God Church||7||3402||29||44||20449||7.1|
|Christ and Missionary Alliance Church||4||4376||33||55||18764||6.8|
|Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)||12||43593||42||42||20643||9.9|
|Christian Churches and Churches of Christ||7||24034||31||49||16653||6.7|
|Christian Methodist Episcopal||3||6226||10||91||13564||19.7|
|Christian Reformed Church||2||24002||56||27||24564||2.0|
|Church of Brethren||4||38811||52||32||21756||6.1|
|Church of God||6||5385||33||45||20039||8.4|
|Church of the Nazarene||8||9023||43||40||19953||5.3|
|Churches of Christ||9||31000||35||33||19837||6.8|
|Evangelical Covenant Church of America||1||26877||39||37||18724||5.9|
|Evangelical Free Church of America||1||27947||35||48||19824||7.8|
|Evangelical Lutheran Church||21||36861||54||30||23794||6.3|
|Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church)||3||19965||27||35||10379||3.7|
|Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod||10||9357||31||42||20101||7.9|
|Lutheran Church in America||3||41694||57||23||25649||4.8|
|Mennonite Brethren Church||2||7318||44||47||18917||6.6|
|Missionary Church Inc||1||5294||47||52||18014||7.1|
|Multiple Protestant Denomination||2||13755||8||73||14267||23.5|
|Original Free Will Baptist||1||9058||26||50||14266||10.3|
|Other (none of the above)||2||45445||34||41||17015||7.5|
|Pentecostal Holiness Church||2||3606||33||58||14884||15.3|
|Presbyterian Church (USA)||47||88039||47||37||20311||7.2|
|Reformed Church in America||3||43109||61||26||22629||3.3|
|Reformed Presbyterian Church||2||38978||56||38||18752||6.7|
|Seventh Day Adventists||11||14426||20||40||20885||6.7|
|The Presbyterian Church in America||1||24117||48||30||21500||3.3|
|United Brethren Church||1||19571||57||35||18741||5.4|
|United Church of Christ||10||17841||41||51||16618||10.4|
|Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod||2||13557||49||34||17198||2.9|
|Average all religious affiliations||552||33976||42||39||21028||7.6|
|Average all private without affilation||380||112961||50||34||24611||6.1|