When campuses across the country came back to life this fall, I began my seventeenth year teaching business at a Catholic college in the Northeast. Over the years, I’ve taught and advised a few thousand students. Given them good exposure to a considerable amount of critical, core business theory. Provided them ample opportunity to practice things discussed in class and network with some impressive professionals. They get their first real immersion in sales process and begin to understand the basic principles of the market economy.
Judging by the metrics commonly used in higher ed, my students succeed. Some beyond even their wildest aspirations. My graduates include top sales executives. VPs and CROs across a myriad of leading industries. It’s impressive and it can be very personally satisfying to watch.
These grads have worked hard, and in many cases been willing to put in the hours that others weren’t. When they enjoy the fruits of their labor, it brings a smile because they have earned it.
That house in Greenwich, or Manhasset, or Newton is theirs.
In higher ed, academically rigorous schools are intentional. They get what they aim for. They spend considerable time and effort investing in and devising strategies to make their grads more marketable. They target students’ quantitative acumen. Build their analytical agility. Improve their prowess using various business software. At the end of all of this, they measure outcomes: at which blue chip firms did grads get jobs? How much do they earn? What is their median salary five years after leaving the campus’s front gate? Which clubs and social circles do grads run in?
Schools pour over such data. They cherish it. These metrics are not without purpose. Tuition-paying parents think of the university as (in part) a place from which to potentially begin a successful professional path.
But, of course, these metrics aren’t designed to capture everything. And it’s difficult to not acknowledge that they are missing something.
Several years back, a highly intelligent female student stopped into an office hour to ask about a connection I had with a tech sales job posting. We spoke for some time. Exchanged some thoughts about her resume. She talked a bit about an internship the previous summer. She took some notes. And as we talked, her gaze kept returning to the family pictures which aligned my bookshelf. When I finished answering her questions, she slowly got up to leave; but she left the impression she had more questions.
My sense was not that she felt she ran out of time; she simply couldn’t articulate the questions. She was working within an implicit frame. She knew that frame set the parameters for how she was supposed to think about her life. And, having thought about this interaction long after, I came to the conclusion that she was quietly nagged by questions whose answers didn’t obviously lie within that frame. She may have also been struggling with having been conditioned to tell herself that her most pressing questions could not possibly be answered by this white man dressed in a blue blazer and striped tie. But the parting glance she gave my family pictures seemed to implicitly ask: is there anyone in one of these offices who could?
I know she’s not alone. I’ve had young men whom I think share the same types of unspoken concerns. I can recall an unexpected email which greeted my Monday morning inbox a few years ago. A male grad who just wanted to check in and say “Hi”. He offered a quick sketch of his current career status – something he must have assumed I most wanted to know – and expressed thanks for helping him get his start. When he didn’t offer much else, I got that familiar feeling. Like he wanted to say something about something for which he offered nothing. It was like a musing interrupted. But not interrupted by me. Interrupted by something he realized but couldn’t express.
Seen through the typical higher-ed lens, these students are high-performing. They are doing “it” — whatever “it” is.
When I look at my complete online network of graduate connections, I wonder: how many more of them are out there? I can see they are titans of Wall Street. Tech mavens. Captains of industry.
But are they happy? More than happy. Are they joyful?
Would schools know the answer to that question? Catholic schools should.
Today’s marketplace is difficult terrain. Those big name firms we’re all tripping over to get our grads to are increasingly strange places for people of faith. Highly-profitable but in a growing number of ways overtly hostile to believers. It’s not new exactly. The Book of Exodus offers insight. When Moses asks Pharaoh to free God’s people, Pharaoh replies, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go?” Outraged his slaves think it appropriate to serve God, Pharaoh makes their jobs harder. If the slaves have time for God, then they can make their bricks without straw. Pharaoh has no patience for the eternal; the eternal poses a threat.
Just like Pharaoh, today’s companies herald the temporal. Ally programs and mandatory woke training sessions meant to satiate the worker’s quest for meaning, while keeping their focus away from God. Their hardline, pro-abortion stands are cleverly cloaked behind appealing language about “women’s rights”, which are really aimed at keeping everyone in line. A letter signed by CEOs from 180 companies following a fetal heartbeat bill in Georgia a couple of years ago was nakedly honest: state restrictions on abortion threaten “economic stability” and impair companies ability to keep “businesses thriving”.
The message: babies aren’t good for business. They have a way of re-shaping “birthing people’s” priorities in ways which take focus off the assembly line.
The pandemic and a season of forced vaccinations bring new challenges. They bring Catholic non-conformists out from under the desks in their cubicles. Religious exemption filers are exiled into perpetual mask-wearing. Nothing feeds the “good” workers’ thirst for justice better than a publicly-sanctioned round of shaming and shunning.
Of course, Catholic Social Teaching has plenty to say about all of this. It’s why older, more experienced practicing Catholics can’t believe what they are living. But without intentional catechesis, the younger ones hardly stand a chance. Somewhere deep within them, though, that still small voice quietly calls to them. They know something isn’t right.
Again, if Catholic colleges and universities are “successful,” these are the places to which we will send our Catholic grads. Before they leave our campus for Google’s, it may be worth asking ourselves if we’ve really done everything we can to prepare Catholic students for what awaits them.
Doing so requires honestly confronting several questions.
Is Catholic mission explicitly present in our campus culture? To use one of today’s popular terms, has it been “systemically” integrated into every thing the college does? Or has it been siloed, placed alongside other institutional departments and divisions?
Are we genuinely driven to the ends of the earth with curiosity about our Catholic students’ and Catholic grads’ relationship with their faith? Are we consumed by a passion for helping Catholic students pursue, love, and discover the single truth which can change their lives in a more meaningful way than any first job, promotion, or raise?
Is this spirit genuinely shared by stakeholders? Are faculty, staff, administrators – and those in important board positions – honestly devoted to cherishing our Catholic students’ faith development and spiritual health at least as much as we value their future financial standing?
And, if we measure what we truly hold dear, are we interested in devising metrics to figure out whether or not we’re successful in unleashing these Catholic students’ faith?
As revolutionary as it may seem, it is worth thinking about the types of metrics Catholic schools might use to assess the faith life of their Catholic grads. Yes, apostolates such as the Newman Society do this sort of work at a collective level. But each Catholic school should be accountable and own these metrics, enabling institutions to track their Catholic grads every five years or so.
Here are some things worth asking the institution’s Catholic grads: How many say that they believe in one God, the Father almighty, the maker of heaven and earth? In Jesus Christ, His only son? And in the Holy Spirit? How many Catholic grads believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic, church?
How many of the school’s Catholic grads prioritize going to Mass? How many times does the average Catholic grad attend Mass in a month? How often do they go to Confession? Do they pray? If so, how many times per week?
How many times in a given year does the institution’s Catholic grad visit a church – not for Mass or formal religious ceremony of any sort – but just to stop in and pray, think, and contemplate? When is the last time they attended Stations of the Cross? How many times in a given month do they have a conversation with someone else about their Catholic faith?
How many of the school’s unmarried Catholic grads live with a boyfriend or girlfriend? How many get married before age of thirty? For those who do marry, how old are they when they marry? How many marry a Catholic? How many of the school’s Catholic grads have children? Of those who do, how many have more than one child? More than two?
If we believe in our college’s Catholic mission, we should think about other relevant metrics.
For we know that Christ is love. Real love. To help our Catholic students pursue Him, is to love them. And to genuinely pursue Him is to pursue the Truth. And the Truth – and only the Truth – will help our Catholic students and Catholic graduates joyfully experience life’s challenges. Even life’s suffering. And it will prepare them to encounter life’s questions.
Not least of which is: regarding that house in Greenwich and that home in Heaven, what are you not willing to do for the former because of your aspiration for the latter?
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