Catholic Colleges and Universities Dispense with Truth

The extended headline from National Catholic Reporter NCR):

Catholic higher education has consistent, higher outcomes

Long history, shared best practices keep Catholic colleges, universities successful”

Behind this headline was a series of boasts that Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, delivered at its annual meeting. He told his fellow Catholic educators, “we're really good at it, because we've been at it [so] long, and our schools share best practices with one another. There are other reasons why we're good at this. These are two; there's a lot more.”

Catholics have certainly been running universities for a long time – they invented them. But when the Enlightenment challenged the Church’s approach to knowledge and many of its claims, universities were pressured to pick sides. When the dust settled, it was clear that the best universities adopted Enlightenment principles and split from the Church.

This raises the question of evidence for Galligan-Stierle’s boasts. None was provided. James Dearie, NCR’s reporter, didn’t inquire and didn’t investigate, perhaps realizing that the facts would interfere with this triumphal story.

One common way of assessing academic excellence is counting the number of Nobel Prize winners. Despite the large number of Catholic colleges and universities world-wide, to the best of my knowledge, they contain no Nobel Prize winners. Some of the best Catholic universities, like Notre Dame, are better known for sports than either academic excellence or righteousness. Virtually none of these colleges and universities is highly ranked academically.

Of course, Galligan-Stierle did not specific what sort of “higher outcome” he had in mind. Another common measure is the average starting salary of graduates. I suspect these universities are more competitive here, in the domain of Mammon, but still nothing to boast about.

Despite the boasts about excellence, the article mentions only one area of relative superiority: “Graduates from Catholic institutions also face a smaller debt burden after graduation, around $25,000 when the national average is about $35,000, and are far more likely to pay their loans back.” First, they are cheaper. Second, graduates find a good enough job to enable them to pay off their loans. But no specifics are given, and I suspect people choosing Catholic colleges are less likely to be deadbeats before they even enter college. Being cheaper is a very tenuous basis for declaring excellence.

NCR also cites Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College: “What skills and competencies do our students need to be successful in the 21st century?” She highlighted “the imperative to educate students to distinguish ‘fake news’ from the truth.” If they succeed, it might threaten Catholic newspapers like NCR.