The formula is so convoluted I couldn’t begin to explain it to you or tell you if is any good, but the results are still fascinating.

To my surprise, the latest issue of First Things, which is more than a little changed since its founder Richard John Neuhaus passed away, includes a survey of America’s colleges and universities. Everyone loves a good ranking.

I wish I could link to the article, but you have to be a subscriber to get access. I wish I could summarize their snapshots of Calvin, Hope, Wheaton, Grove City, Union, Biola, and Taylor, but there are too many summaries to give. But have no fear, I can always pass on the rankings (and encourage you to check out the November issue at the library or buy your own copy).

First Things collected data on 2063 colleges and universities. Through polling data, government-collected information, other published guides and reports, and input from the experts, First Things “measured” the academic, social, and religious dimensions of American institutions of higher education. Putting it altogether, here’s some of what they came up with:

Top Schools in America

1. Wheaton College
2. Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
3. Princeton University
4. United States Air Force Academy
5. Brigham Young University
6. Yeshiva University
7. University of Virginia
8. Duke University
9. University of Chicago
10. Franciscan University of Steubenville

Other Notables: Hillsdale College (11), Calvin College (13), Baylor University (17), Grove City College (20), Taylor University (21).

Least Unfriendly to Faith Among Top Secular Schools
1. Princeton University
2. Duke University
3. University of Virginia
4. University of Chicago
5. Stanford University

Best Seriously Protestant Schools
1. Wheaton College
2. Calvin College
3. Taylor University
4. Gordon College
5. George Fox University
6. Westmont College
7. Seattle Pacific University
8. Houghton College
9. Grove City College
10. Whitworth College

Others Mentioned: Union University (TN), Covenant College, Messiah College, Northwestern College (MN)

Schools on the Rise, Filled with Excitement
1. Belmont Abbey College
2. Wake Forest University
3. Houston Baptist University
4. The King’s College
5. Concordia University Wisconsin

There are other rankings I didn’t include, like “Most Catholic Catholic Schools,” but I’ll leave you with this humdinger of a category:

Schools in Decline, Filled with Gloom
1. Valparaiso University
2. Gonzaga University
3. Darmouth College
4. Azusa Pacific University
5. College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Phew, at least Michigan State stayed off that list.

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50 thoughts on “Is Wheaton College the Top School in America? A Leading Catholic Journal Thinks So”

  1. John Murphy says:

    I can’t say that I put too much weight on their analysis since there is a girl at our church who almost lost her faith at Calvin College. She transferred to Michigan State where God rescued her. Sad.

  2. Tom says:

    I wonder what qualifies a school as being “seriously Protestant”? Sounds funny.

  3. Scott C says:

    John Byl has an interesting article about Calvin College and its embrace of evolution here:

  4. Dan says:

    I don’t see this replacing the US News ranking any time soon. And for students who want to go to Christian colleges, this list will look silly since it mixes in secular (and Mormon) schools too.

  5. truthmatters says:

    I think John Calvin would disqualify Calvin.

  6. Matt Beatty says:

    I’ll have to go to Borders and read the rankings. As a graduate and former prof of/at one of the “top Protestant” institutions where students routinely learn to question their faith rather than embrace it (or embrace a politically correct version of it)… I’d rather send them to a explicitly secular state university for training than an erstwhile “Christian” institution who thinks it’s job is to be “relevant” rather than true.

    Wheaton’s selection by First Things is nothing short of astonishing, given Wheaton’s anti-Catholic bias.

  7. Maureen says:

    Oh, it breaks my heart to see Azusa Pacific University on that “decline” list. I had a wonderful experience at that school.

  8. Paul says:

    Stanford has a solid IVF and a large RUF. They (para church orgs) brought in Tim Keller and Francis Collins during my two years there – memorial hall was packed for both speakers.

  9. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Just Curious, why is Azusa Pacific University in decline?

  10. Did it say anything about where Biola stood?

    Northwestern College is my alma mater.

  11. Chris H. says:

    Liberty, Patrick Henry, and Cedarville didn’t make the top ten of “Most Seriously Protestant?” Really?

  12. Andrew says:

    I would place “Least Unfriendly to Faith Among Top Secular Schools” near the top of my list of hard-to-comprehend survey titles.

  13. Andy Rowell says:

    Interesting! But the blog post title is a little misleading as First Things is not really a “Catholic” journal. Timothy George and George Marsden among others are on the Editorial & Advisory Board. Their self-description is: “First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”

  14. BP says:

    Is the Wheaton College listed as #1 in the US the Illinois or MA Wheaton?

  15. Andy says:

    The top 3 “seriously Protestant” schools are all within 200 miles of each other.

    (Woo Taylor!)

  16. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Wheaton College in Illinois. I seem to recall Biola got high marks.

  17. Andy says:

    Actually, Biola didn’t make the rankings list, but the Torrey Honors College at Biola got honorable mention.

  18. Kyle says:

    I’m not sure if George Fox University should necessarily be labeled a “seriously Protestant school” especially one that is top ranked in the nation. If you are looking for a great education then George Fox will give it to you, no doubt. But they really have left their first love. Knowing dozens of students, alumni, teachers, and even board member, I have seen George Fox hurt more Christian walks than help. For example, I have one friend who was taking a required Bible class at GFU and as a result of the class he nearly walked away from his faith because the teacher taught the class that the Bible is fiction and myth with what looked like convincing evidence, especially to freshmen. It hurts my heart to watch the compromise infect so many young Christians.

  19. Dana Olson says:

    I’m a Bethel grad, from the golden era (Grudem,Piper, Stein, Sailhamer, et al in the Bible dept.), and am wondering how it didn’t even get a mention on your lists. And, I have a daughter at Union U. (with President David Dockery) and another who graduated from there, and must say that they’ve had a tremendous experience there, both spiritually and academically.

  20. stephen h says:

    I recently graduated from Valpo and as such it is easy to understand the variables they used in the ranking system. The new president of VU, Mark Heckler, has been expanding enrollment and trying to break away from the Lutheran tradition of VU since he was installed. With larger numbers of non-Lutherans or even non-Christians the overall change in proportion of Christians or Lutherans at the school will look dramatic, which is what these kind of people like to publish anyway.

    A more accurate analysis would control for change in total enrollment so a simple increase in total enrollment doesn’t influence the results. My guess is the starting figure of number of non-secular students was contrasted to a later figure of non-secular students after enrollment increased dramatically over the last calendar year.

    Ah, statistics. You can make anything look good (or bad) using statistics.

  21. Paul says:

    (Different Stanford grad. called Paul from the previous Paul).

    My knowledge of this is out of date so maybe I’m completely wrong and if you have more up to date information you can feel free to correct me but…..

    Princeton is 1 as least unfriendly to faith? Are you kidding me? When I had friends there, it had, I believe, only two evangelical Christian student societies, both pretty small (like less than 50 people). The only good thing about Princeton was that the university can’t easily ban a student organization because any ten students can set one up pretty much no matter what the administration thinks.

    Having spent several years at Stanford, all I can say is that I hate to think what it takes to be lower than Stanford in the “least unfriendly to faith” category. For instance, when I was there, there were several ways in which ResEd discriminated against Christians (so if you applied to be an RA and ResEd found out you were in an evangelical Christian organization, your chances of getting the job were basically zero). True, Stanford has plenty of Christian organizations but they are mostly small ones and many of those don’t have significant numbers of non-Asian members (even if they try to recruit them, in practice, non-Asians don’t show up).

  22. Mike says:

    Wonder where Moody Bible would be on that list???

  23. Tim H. says:

    It’s hard to know how seriously “protestant” Grove City is. For one thing, a number of the faculty are Roman Catholic.

  24. Ryan Biese says:

    Interesting that Grove City would make the top 10. It certainly has a lot of evangelicals, but its administration seems to have a great deal of sympathy for the Church of Rome. One senior official referred to the Reformation as the “sundering of Christendom”. What does “protestant” mean anymore?

  25. Joe says:

    “As a graduate and former prof of/at one of the “top Protestant” institutions where students routinely learn to question their faith rather than embrace it (or embrace a politically correct version of it)… ”

    Sadly, this describes far too many Christian schools.

  26. Ben says:

    As an alumnus, I’d agree that Duke can be a great place for a Christian. During my time there, it had vibrant Christian student groups, great area churches, and suffered from none of the administrative bias that Paul (#2) describes at Standford. Granted, my Intro to New Testament class was taught by a grad student who subtly mocked faith in the Bible, but I would expect that at most “secular” schools. In fact, I think it was helpful going to various classes expecting to be in at least moderate worldview-conflict with my teachers and thus only seeking spiritual guidance from Bible Study friends and my church. Much worse to go into a Christian-school-in-name confusing the professor with your pastor and imbibing his favorite research interests as Gospel truth.

  27. Peter says:

    What about Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary? They recently celebrated 200 years of Biblical faithfulness. Silly survey. :P

  28. Paula says:

    In the category of “Most least likely to not be not friendly to non-atheists” (how’s that?), I would put Hillsdale College at or near the top. My son is a freshman there and while it is officially non-sectarian, it’s mission statement says it “considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture,” a theme that is evident throughout the school.

    We have yet to attend an official convocation or meal at which there wasn’t a thoughtful, sincere, Evangelical-sounding, student-led prayer. Discussions about faith are encouraged both inside and outside the classroom, there are student-led Bible studies in all the dorms, and there is an honor code. The required Western Heritage course uses Hillsdale’s own Western Heritage: A Reader. This compilation includes generous selections of the Old & New Testament, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin’s Institutes, & Martin Luther as required reading for every student.

    Although not as strict as most Christian schools (no dress code, no required chapel), there are rules that most Christian families would be comfortable with: no co-ed dorms, limited visiting hours, no parties during the week and no birth control at the student health service. The school also recently adopted a whopper of a policy on sexual conduct , saying (in part), “Thus the College has always understood morally responsible sexual acts to be those occurring in marriage and between the sexes. This understanding has been unwavering, undergirds its policies regarding student conduct, and informs its institutional practices.

    But again, it is not a Christian school and it’s not for everyone. There are students from all faith backgrounds… a LOT of Catholics, a handful of Mormons, some agnostics, and a population of socially liberal Libertarians. Kids need to be really well-equipped to handle the atmosphere of debate and intellectual challenge.

  29. Brandon Shaw says:

    From August 2005 to December 2007, I attended Wheaton College (IL) and would not change that experience for the world. The Doctrines of Grace were introduced to me there. The church next-door had brilliant pastors who were educated at the finest institutions (TEDS, Gordon Conwell, TBI, Westminster, Cambridge, etc.). Evangelistic opportunities were everywhere. (The train station next to campus ran right into the heart of Chicago.) Also, I lived in an apartment on Crescent Street my senior semester, just two blocks down from Crossway Publishers. (“For Your Joy” gospel tracts sat in its tiny bookstore. Upon purchasing them, I’d pass them out on the walk back.) All that to say, I love Wheaton.

    When I asked the former president of the College, Dr. Duane Litfin, what he thought about “Newsweek” calling Wheaton the “evangelical Harvard,” he replied by saying he found it to be rather silly. (Interestingly, I popped the question while we were walking off the field at Camden Yards just after a Franklin Graham event. Please know I don’t endorse the altar call. Iain Murray taught me well in his “The Invitation System.”) That said, I wonder what Dr. Litfin would say about this particular ranking. Hopefully, word will get to him if it has not already. I’ll pray that he reads the article and comments.

    By the way, if you want a copy of the article, you can call “First Things” @ 212.627.1985 and they will send you the November 2010 issue for free. I may give my analysis here once I peruse it.

    (Kevin, I love your work. It’s funny that Peter mentioned Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. For various reasons, I dropped out of there. Now I’m at SBTS and could not be happier. Your work, “Just Do Something” compelled me to get back on the seminary horse and try again. Thanks, brother.)

  30. Jordan says:

    Where did biola rank?

  31. Steve Robison says:

    I find it astonishing that Protestant Christians feel compelled to omit references to ” Catholic” Colleges, as though they are beneath consideration or lack serious merit due to their Catholicity. One writer commented that they were astonished that a Catholic magazine could comment favorably on Wheaton due to their anti Catholic bias. In the larger intellectual world, it is not necessary to demonize Colleges based on their denomination. The criteria should be based on their overall merit. Small minded intolerate views only serve to perpetuate ignorant prejudice.

  32. Joe F. says:

    As a Grove City grad I am confused how we are all the way down at 9 on the Protestant rankings. GCC is much harder to get into than Gordon, Houghton, Seattle, etc. Not to mention the top professors and schools on campus. Did I mention that the price is half of the other schools?

  33. Jason says:

    Seems a little strange to me that Biola didn’t end up in the top 10 “Seriously Protestant Schools.” I’m interested in checking out the methodology.

  34. DF Wilcox says:

    Pepperdine on the list?

  35. Matt says:

    Is it fair to call First Things a *Catholic* journal? One of their major editors is Baptist (Carter). Another is Jewish (Goldman). Obviously, Fr. Neuhaus was the center of the place, but that doesn’t make it a Catholic journal, right?

  36. WHTN RLS says:

    Preach it B. Shaw.

    As a recent Wheaton Grad., Wheaton is a place with an incredibly eclectic mix of ideologies. Core truths are (generally) upheld among staff and the diversities extending from there create a most formative experience. A faith that is pampered is no faith at all. A faith that is tested is one that will last a lifetime.

    Rather than as posted in some comments above, the fact that each and every faculty and administrator don’t share a mirror image of each others’ belief systems stands to expose students to different ways of thinking that don’t neglect what’s inherently true in the gospels.

  37. I attended a “brand name” SoCal evangelical college that is nowhere on any of these lists. That’s….reassuring. When I was there, I really got the impression that this was the only college that Jesus would have went to. I was saved there (itself a supposed anomaly, given that they don’t admit non-Christians), but my faith had to go through some pretty serious reengineering after I graduated. I’m thankful to be learning about all these other schools. Like I said, the school I was at never even acknowledged the possibility that any other college could come close to theirs…

  38. Jon says:

    Just graduated from Northwestern College (MN) last year, and I have to say it is a top Christian college. Solidly biblical and academically rigorous. The theological studies department has a good mix of solid Reformed and Arminian profs who are staunch in their beliefs but train critical thinkers instead of indoctrinate. However, the history department is by far the best at the school. I am currently doing an MA in History of Christianity at a major graduate program and was thoroughly prepared from my undergrad experience.

  39. Andrew says:

    Shameless plug:

    The Master’s College is #1 on my list.

    Go Mustangs !!!

  40. Dave Bissett says:

    Sad note on GORDON COLLEGE — this past Friday their chapel (“convocation”) featured BRIAN MACLAREN espousing his deficient understanding of Christianity to a captive audience. “Embrace change” was his theme, even to the point of pushing away from your parents’ understanding and practice of the faith. Hmm.
    Happy note – with several students I know attending Grove City College, I am very pleased with their ample emphasis on living for Christ.

  41. Michael says:

    Bethel is not mentioned because academic dimensions were considered. People who transfer from Wheaton to Bethel freely express how much less academically demanding their programs are.

    Northwestern makes Wheaton look like Princeton on a conservative-liberal scale.

  42. Brian Petersen says:

    Biola should have been all over this list. It’s funny because a number of faculty came from Wheaton. Ridiculous oversight!

  43. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Pastor Tim Bayly, who I think went to Wheaton, has a dissenting view about Wheaton:

    “Put more simply, I’d never go to Wheaton. Didn’t you see my daughter-in-law’s comment, that her Bible profs were the worst when it came to promoting feminism at Wheaton? And I’ve heard this indirectly from others highly–very highly–placed in Wheaton.”

    From: Here.

  44. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Here’s a separate, earlier post by Pastor Tim Bayly about Wheaton:

    “Because, contrary to her sales pitch, Wheaton has grown slack in her commitment, “For Christ and His Kingdom.”

    Says my quite-intelligent daughter-in-law who knows a thing or two about feminism and its fruit: “Wheaton in general is given to feminism. You hear it in chapel and no one’s really fighting against it. My Bible profs were particularly bad.”

    Almost thirty years ago, my Dad mailed me one of Wheaton’s publications in which her president was quoted saying Wheaton would not take any position on the issue of abortion. In the blue ink of his fountain pen, Dad had written across the page, “Can you imagine Jonathan Blanchard writing this about slavery?” (Blanchard harbored fugitive slaves in his home and Wheaton was a part of the Underground Railroad.)”

    Excerpted From: A quarter billion to “stimulate the arts,” “enliven the library,” and “elevate evangelism”…

  45. Matt says:

    Could Pastor Bayly elaborate a bit on where one crosses the line into feminism? This will help me to evaluate Wheaton with greater precision.

  46. Truth Unites... and Divides says:


    Are you familiar with the Danvers Statement?

  47. Christopher Benson says:

    Pastor DeYoung: If you think the First Things formula for measuring colleges is “so convoluted,” please tell us why rather than shirk the responsibility by saying “I couldn’t begin to explain it to you or tell you if [sic] is any good.” It sounds like you are sour grapes that Wheaton was ranked number one and your alma mater did not make the list. How would you measure the academic, social, and religious dimensions of American institutions of higher education?

    Also, rather than making an observation without an explanation – “the latest issue of First Things, which is more than a little changed since its founder Richard John Neuhaus passed away” – why not tell us how you think the publication has changed for better or for worse?

  48. Drew - hawkeyeengineer says:

    Shameless plug also – Covenant College in Lookout Mountain GA! In all things Christ preeminent! I’m not an alum but I’ve got 4 wonderful children who are all alum or currently attending.

  49. Student says:

    If Biola University isn’t included in the “Best Seriously Protestant Schools” , then this list is not accurate! =P

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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