Colleges with Religious Affiliations 2015

church stain glass windowMost colleges first established in the Colonial period were designed to train religious leaders. Colleges were often founded by religious organizations and supported with public money. Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Brown all shared the primary purpose of preparing young men for the ministry, the major difference being theology. Today, these institutions no longer claim any religious affiliation although Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all still maintain Divinity/Theological Schools.

According to the Integrate Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), there are currently 552 private colleges and universities with 500 or more full-time undergraduates with religious affiliations. This accounts for just under 60% of all private institutions. These include institutions easily recognized for their religious affiliations including Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Baylor, and Boston College.

However, it also includes schools such as Duke, Emory, Davidson, Lafayette, and Macalester. These are often historic affiliations and actually have little to do with current academics, culture, or student behavior. At other colleges, however, the religious affiliation affects who is hired, which subjects are taught, student dress, and how often students must attend chapel.

If you’re trying to determine the influence of affiliation on the institution, you can get a pretty good idea by visiting the college’s webpage and looking under the About section. To get a sense of the differences take a look at Davidson College, affiliated with the Presbyterians, and Wheaton College, an undenominational affiliation.

Davidson’s Statement of Purpose states

The Christian tradition to which Davidson remains committed recognizes God as the source of all truth, and believes that Jesus Christ is the revelation of that God, a God bound by no church or creed. The loyalty of the college thus extends beyond the Christian community to the whole of humanity and necessarily includes openness to and respect for the world’s various religious traditions.

You won’t find the words “biblical” or “covenant” anywhere in the statement.

You will find it on the Wheaton College website. According to its Educational Purpose “The curricular approach is designed to combine faith and learning in order to produce a biblical perspective needed to relate Christian experience to the demands of those needs.” Wheaton College also states that “We desire to build this covenant on basic biblical standards for godly Christian character and behavior.”

Although both list religious affiliations, these are two very different institutions.

If you’re trying to find a non-Catholic Christian college with a strong religious presence, you should try searching the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities or the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. The members of the Christian College Consortium offers an exchange program among their campuses.

IPEDS list over 50 different religious affiliations with the largest being Roman Catholic. With 173 affiliated institutions, Roman Catholic schools easily exceed the combined total of the next three largest denominations, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church, and Baptist.
count of colleges with religious affiliations

The top 11 categories represent three-quarters of all religiously affiliated institutions. Of the 48 colleges where 10% or more of undergraduates graduate with degrees in theology, none are affiliated with the three largest denominations.

On average, religiously affiliated colleges had lower average net prices than non-affiliated private colleges, $21,028 to $24,610. They also had lower four-year graduation rates 41.7% for religiously affiliated colleges compared to 49.7% for non-religiously affiliated private colleges. However, religiously affiliated schools had a higher percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants while a lower average endowment per student when compare to non-affiliated private colleges. Over 40% of 50-50 schools have religious affiliations.

It’s important to note that these averages can change dramatically by denomination. Eleven denominations had 4-year graduation rates higher than the average for non-affiliated private schools including Presbyterian and Interdenominational colleges.

The average endowment per student for any denomination failed to exceed that of the non-affiliated private colleges. Eleven denominations had lower percentages of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants compared to the non-affiliated private average of 34%. These include the Presbyterian Church at 30% and Roman Catholics at 33%. The average for United Methodist was 40% and 45% for Baptist.

The table below lists the number of colleges by religious affiliation and selected characteristics. All of this information is available in the DIY College Search Spreadsheet.

College Characteristics by Religious Affiliations
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per Student
4 yr
Avg %
Avg Net
Gift Aid (2012-2013)
African Methodist Episcopal211556871307428.8
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church1161011831476325.5
American Baptist7230223648198099.0
American Evangelical Lutheran Church1728353140185889.7
Assemblies of God Church734022944204497.1
Brethren Church273804832187254.2
Christ and Missionary Alliance Church443763355187646.8
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)12435934242206439.9
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ7240343149166536.7
Christian Methodist Episcopal3622610911356419.7
Christian Reformed Church2240025627245642.0
Church of Brethren4388115232217566.1
Church of God653853345200398.4
Church of the Nazarene890234340199535.3
Churches of Christ9310003533198376.8
Cumberland Presbyterian151811611757310.2
Evangelical Christian116462750231917.9
Evangelical Covenant Church of America1268773937187245.9
Evangelical Free Church of America1279473548198247.8
Evangelical Lutheran Church21368615430237946.3
Free Methodist599794144205045.8
Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church)3199652735103793.7
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod1093573142201017.9
Lutheran Church in America3416945723256494.8
Mennonite Brethren Church273184447189176.6
Mennonite Church3491045233210305.5
Missionary Church Inc152944752180147.1
Moravian Church2528736643208045.1
Multiple Protestant Denomination2137558731426723.5
Original Free Will Baptist1905826501426610.3
Other (none of the above)2454453441170157.5
Other Protestant451733844226717.7
Pentecostal Holiness Church2360633581488415.3
Presbyterian Church (USA)47880394737203117.2
Protestant Episcopal37014139602143320.0
Reformed Church in America3431096126226293.3
Reformed Presbyterian Church2389785638187526.7
Roman Catholic173248554633228715.9
Seventh Day Adventists11144262040208856.7
Southern Baptist16152463241181319.5
The Presbyterian Church in America1241174830215003.3
United Brethren Church1195715735187415.4
United Church of Christ101784141511661810.4
United Methodist78559784140210439.2
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod2135574934171982.9
Average all religious affiliations552339764239210287.6
Average all private without affilation3801129615034246116.1


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