Thinking Theologically About Student Success: Higher Education with a Higher Calling

Vanderpool, S. K. & Cockle, T. F. “Thinking theologically about student success: Higher education with a higher calling” Presentation at the Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture annual conference, Waco, TX, October 29, 2021.


Student success has become a buzz word in higher education, and, given national demographic trends within the high school population today, this is sure to continue to be so in the coming decade. This panel proposes that current definitions of student success, commonly boiled down to metrics such as board scores, graduation rates, or even salaries upon graduation, are incomplete. The aims of higher education should certainly include things like degree completion and career readiness, but aren’t faith-based people and institutions called to something higher? We unpack in this panel the implications of foundational assertions in the Christian theology: that human beings are made in the likeness and image of God and the telos of our lives is to serve God. If we begin with these basic theological tenets, we work toward a much more aspirational view of what a Christian university is for. Can theology actually animate student life on campus? What would that look like? Can we truly develop students “holistically” without ever speaking of purpose? Come and explore with us how starting with these fundamental assumptions might lead us to focus more on developing character in and among students, encouraging students to discern vocation and reflect on their lives as calling, and fostering virtues such as patience and courage.