The Economic Impact of Faith-Based Colleges and Universities


These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.

Christian colleges and universities can often find themselves on the defensive. They may be asked to explain their commitment to their Christian values, their high standards for faculty, staff and students, or how their sacred mission contributes to their academic goals. Although they are frequently scrutinized, the reality is that Christian colleges and universities make irreplaceable contributions to the common good not only in terms of advancing faith and intellect, but also in terms of economic impact.

The Council for Christian College and Universities (CCCU) is an association of Christian higher education institutions and Sacred Sector participant that commissioned Econsult Solutions, Inc., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm, to assess the economic impact of Christian higher education in the United States. Econsult Solutions calculated the impact of CCCU’s 142 Christian colleges and universities in the United States, which collectively educate 445,000 students, employ 72,000 faculty and staff and serve 3.5 million alumni.

Econsult Solutions examined economic impact in three categories: the colleges and universities’ own operations, their capital investments in projects such as new buildings, and wage premiums, or the increased earning power of alumni after graduation. Taken together, Christian higher education in the U.S. has a cumulative economic impact of $60 billion each year.

This economic impact also includes tax revenue. Although the federal government invests $470 million into CCCU institutions through student aid, that investment produces back $9.7 billion, or 20 times more, in federal tax revenue each year. These colleges and universities also contribute 340,000 jobs to in the national economy yearly. The tax-generating nature of CCCU colleges and universities is especially notable considering their tax exempt status.

Moreover, Christian colleges and universities are becoming increasingly inclusive and accessible. Graduates from CCCU institutions have a student loan default rate of 6.3%, nearly half the national average  (11.5%). In addition, 1 in 3 CCCU students are first-generation college students, and 50% of CCCU students’ families make less than $50,000 annually.

According to a press release issued by the CCCU, President Shirley V. Hoogstra said:

Christian colleges and universities provide a unique and valuable place for students to discern their vocation through the study of their chosen discipline. They also develop a deeper relationship with God, with their peers and professors and with their surrounding communities. Our rigorous academics and educational missions shape students who act for the public good — often at a cost to themselves — out of a love for Jesus Christ and for the world around them. The results from this report are powerful and illuminate a bright future for Christian higher education.

For additional information and to access the full report, visit

Public Positioning

In both commissioning and sharing the report, the CCCU exemplifies how faith-based organizations can effectively position themselves to communicate the importance of their faith-based mission to their overall success.

Too often, faith-based organizations excel at internal communications while neglecting to share their unique contributions with the public. Standards for Excellence® is a national initiative that promotes ethical practices and accountability for nonprofit organizations. According to their Educating and Engaging the Public Educational Packet, nonprofits should “educate, inform, and engage their supporters, funders, donors, regulators, program participants, staff, board, volunteers, and the community at large. Building and nurturing this strong network of informed and involved support is one of the key foundations to the nonprofit's success and future sustainability.”

By issuing a report on their institutions’ economic impact and releasing the information to the public via a dedicated website, email blasts, social media and a press release, the CCCU ensures that stakeholders and broader society are made aware of how their organization benefits the common good. The CCCU even goes a step further, including the centrality of their sacred mission in their public communications about their achievements.

Sacred Sector provides resources so that faith-based organizations such as the CCCU can live out their sacred mission in all aspects of their organizational life. One resource, the Nondiscrimination Laws Public Policy Toolbox, says:

FBOs should proactively educate their stakeholders and service recipients about the faith-based motivations behind their organizational culture, employee conduct codes and service delivery practices and standards. Engaging in discussions with the broader community and developing partnerships with other organizations will help the public better understand how FBOs’ faith-based missions shape their work and the distinct contributions they make as a result of sacred beliefs and practices.

In highlighting the value of explicitly faith-based educational institutions, the CCCU connects its sacred mission and the sacred mission of its colleges and universities to its academic, spiritual and economic impact. The CCCU clearly exemplifies how faith-based organizations can successfully embrace their sacred missions in their public communications.

For more information on how faith-based organizations can engage in effective public positioning, login to the Participant Portal or sign up for Sacred Sector to access the Nondiscrimination Laws Public Policy Toolbox and Standards for Excellence® resources.


Though often publicly scrutinized for their distinctly faith-based identities, Christian colleges and universities have a substantial annual economic impact. Their academic, spiritual and economic contributions enable the flourishing of American society, and should not be overlooked. One way faith-based organizations can make certain that their contributions are recognized is by adopting a public communications strategy that connects their sacred mission to their successes. By investing in an analysis of their institutions’ economic impact and sharing the results of the study with the public, the CCCU demonstrates how faith-based organizations can positively influence public perception of their achievements. When faith-based organizations commit to sharing how their work advances the common good, they indicate the vital importance of the sacred sector to the rest of society.

If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.

Kathryn Mae Post is an intern with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She is graduating from Calvin College in May of 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.