“Every higher education institution has one. It’s not the catchy slogan emblazoned on campus merchandise, and it’s not necessarily in an admissions counselor’s spiel. It’s the subtle lessons we learn about an institution through studying their campus programs, student activities, and the institutional funding allocated for programming beyond the classroom.”
May 1 is the national deposit deadline for colleges and universities. This is the day when students make their final college enrollment decision and provide a financial deposit to the school of their choice. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of students are trying to figure out where to spend the next four years. They’ll seek guidance from friends and family. They’ll read books and listen to podcasts. Many will pray. But to be frank, most of them are clueless about the most important factor they should be considering—the hidden curriculum of an institution.
Every higher education institution has one. It’s not the catchy slogan emblazoned on campus merchandise, and it’s not necessarily in an admissions counselor’s spiel. It’s the subtle lessons we learn about an institution through studying their campus programs, student activities, and the institutional funding allocated for programming beyond the classroom. You don’t need a PhD to discern an institution’s hidden curriculum. It only requires a curious mind, a discerning heart, and knowing where to look.
One of the best ways to get a sense of an institution’s hidden curriculum is to spend time on a campus. Look around and study the place. What campus events are advertised? How do students treat one another and the faculty? What is reported in the campus newspaper? Facilities are another good indicator of an institution’s hidden curriculum. If you are interested in studying theater, but the institution hasn’t made an investment in the arts in years, it might be a sign you’re looking in the wrong place. If you want to grow in your faith at college, but the institution is hostile toward Christian groups, you might be heading to the wrong institution.
At a well-regarded higher education institution I know, there is an infamous event referred to as “the night of decadence.” On this night, the campus turns a blind eye to underage drinking, and a host of other things, and lets students do as they desire for one night. This night is a piece of the school’s hidden curriculum. And nights like it are part of the hidden curriculum at institutions around the world. As much as believers strive to be in the world but not of the world, attending an institution where the hidden curriculum contradicts your own core convictions takes a heavy toll—and it’s a toll many 18-year-olds are simply not ready to face.
College Shapes You
I frequently hear from students who are excited to attend an institution they recognize as counter to their own beliefs, because they believe that they will positively change the institution or their peers. But the reality is you’re much more likely to be shaped by the institutions you join than you are to shape those institutions. The hidden curriculum of an institution shapes young people’s desires for life and for what their life will become. The incredible privilege, responsibility, and draw of working in higher education is that our actions will have a lasting effect on the people who come to study at our institutions.