“Ask a Priest: Why Do Some Catholics Reject Higher Education Outright?”

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Q: Historically, the Church has been devoted to education, with so many of our saints having opened schools and furthered the education of others. It seems lately, however, that devout Catholics are so often putting down higher education (I hear this a lot in Catholic media and in my rural, Southern parish) and expressing grave suspicion of education. As a college professor who converted to Catholicism before getting my Ph.D., I find this attitude disheartening. Studying history in great detail helped lead me to convert; it is unlikely I would have converted without years of study and a desire to learn truth. Do you know why some of the faithful have begun to disdain education? It seems as though they are unaware of what actually is happening on college campuses and make broad assumptions, which is hurtful for us who do work in those areas. Thank you! – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is great to hear that you converted to the Catholic faith.

Without knowing the exact context and content of the complaints you heard about higher education, I could only guess that these folks aren’t rejecting higher education, per se.

What they might be rejecting are the trends toward wokeness and “diversity” that are hurting the intellectual integrity of many campuses.

Certainly, there are lots of professors and students who still genuinely seek the truth through rigorous research and study. Perhaps you are fortunate to work at a school where that is the dominant ethos. Unfortunately, that is not the case at a lot of schools nowadays.

Perhaps the “devout Catholics” you refer to are people who feel a bit overwhelmed by the nasty trends going on in the wider culture, especially on many secular (or secularized) campuses. There are lots of well-documented reports about the mess that characteries higher education (for instance, see the National Association of Scholars site).

Nevertheless, if Catholics are to evangelize the world, we need to try to form ourselves well. This includes higher education for some people. They need not attend the “perfect school”; with effort and prudence they can get a solid education at any number of campuses.

Moreover, there are lots of resources online that could complement anyone’s education in the faith and philosophy and other fields. Among them: Word on Fire, Catholic Answers, First Things (plus its podcasts), The Catholic Thing, and The Witherspoon Institute.

The Church continues to believe in the power of education. The Church helped bring about the advent of the universities; part of its mission now is to help keep the flame of genuine research burning.

Changing the culture will require well-educated people of good will. This isn’t the moment to write off higher education totally.


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  1. To the professor who believes Catholic Christians are rejecting higher education, outright. I present the possibility that those of faith, counseled by the Holy Spirit, are not so much rejecting ‘higher’ education but are being ‘educated’ by the HIGHER counsel ‘above.’

    My mom of the WWII generation said often that her high school education was the equivalent of a college education. That translates to: standards of discipline were there in 9th through 12th grades that she learned ‘how to think and reason’ (one purpose for college, supposedly besides the ‘in-depth knowledge’ of a particular profession.)

    When EVERYONE is getting a college degree, the educated and disciplined student with high school diploma will do just as well to take a two year vocational course of study to meet the needs of ‘neighbor’ (hairdresser, or barber, plumber, butcher, baker, auto mechanic OR ‘web designer ‘ (big industry) or medical technician, medical billing, secretarial …oops administrative asst., computer repair, or something to do with inputting info to a computer. COST for those topics in a ‘trade’ school might be 15k to 20k a year (two years in depth study of ‘how to do’) But . . . even if the entire tuition was a loan (though some might be paid cash) A 40K student debt can be easily made back … with any of the above IN DEMAND occupations/professions.
    (perhaps in 4 or 5 years) vs 10 YEARS to hold a BA, BS, Phd (not to put down degrees)

    Let’s face truth; the cost of a college education ISN’T WORTH THE COST. One who learns how to do something is JUST AS EDUCATED as the guy or gal using big words. EDUCATION is not limited to 4 or six years in a classroom and POW ‘instant education’ . . . THE TRULY EDUCATED understand the source of ‘higher education’ comes by aligning oneself with THE OMNISCIENT (all knowing) SPIRIT of God.

  2. How many BUSINESS management degrees are needed? If one wants to learn about business, go work a business. (perhaps in the business one’s interest)

    My personal opinion of why college? To learn PSY101 (one or two semesters to . . . get the better of one’s ‘opponent’ . . . which is how many view CO-WORKERS) Psychology of ‘office politics.’ Fastest tongue advances. (NAHHH, learn a trade and one will always have work)

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