Much has been made of the value of college education. Some believe it is unnecessary and after all we need plenty of backbone to do the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs that make the world go ‘round. Others warn that without a college education, you may be jeopardizing your future for a good salary and benefits. In between are those who claim that a four-year college degree is bound to disappoint because jobs will not be there or jobs that are fulfilling will be scarce. Still others believe that those who cannot afford college should be paid a living wage. Some remedies that are offered include scaling back what universities do, for instance, research libraries and the removal of philosophy departments because they are unprofitable and too costly to be provided for all students. I wince at the idea since that is where I spent most of my time in college.

The point of it all is that there is growing gap between elite students and those left in their wake. The clear danger is that with the shrinking of general undergraduate education, the only part of most students’ education in which cultural citizenship is pursued, is likely to dumb down America. After all, a democracy demands educational commitment to the broad intellectual development of all our citizens. As the journalist Nicholas Lemann concludes, “the cost of education is worth the kind of society it buys.”

Churches across the country are scaling back. And as we have been told, fewer people are attending church. I hazard to calculate what this will mean for a democratic republic, as well. In as much as a democracy needs an enlightened citizenry to govern well, churches, mosques, and temples help democracies flourish with the moral compass and prophetic word they offer for the health of the world. As you pack your darlings off to college this year, enclose the yellow pages of churches near the campus and their education will be complete.