Against the Odds – Why a Christian University in the Heart of Nashville is Thriving

Against the Odds – Why a Christian University in the Heart of Nashville is Thriving

As we go into the fall season, I am grateful for the strength of the university that I serve. We are seeing triple digit growth and are breaking all-time records for freshman enrollment, undergraduate enrollment, and total enrollment. The high-water marks of last year will soon trail the new numbers for this year.

Why? If you read articles about colleges, you’ll recognize that this pattern is not the norm. The pundits predict the demise of private Christian colleges. Tennessee has made community college free. Yes, we are competing with free. Everyone says tuition is skyrocketing and is out of control.

Church support for the Christian mission of a university is down. States are trimming funding for college. Many are declaring that a college degree is not worth what it costs, especially in terms of the number of years it takes to pay back a college loan. Liberal arts degrees are under attack as “too general” and “too vague” to offer a skill set that is marketable.

I read this stuff all the time. Most of it has been challenged statistically (and correctly) in studies done by the Council for Independent Colleges (CIC).

So why is Trevecca seeing its best days?

As the world gets more complex, people look for places where truth is spoken, grace is offered, and persons are respected.
When it comes to our sons and daughters, we don’t shop for formative influence like we shop for a car. The lowest price is not as important as the highest value.

If a college experience most likely will destroy the faith we have carefully instilled in our child, it is a bad deal—even if it is free or cheap.

Holistic education, and by this I mean a liberal arts education that looks at human understanding broadly, is the best preparation for a life of work. Jobs will change rapidly, but the ability to read, write, reason, communicate, compute, solve problems, and get along with others will always be central to the work we do.

We want to trust that the people who lecture our sons and daughters for four years have their best interests at heart. The professors of Trevecca are here because they are called to serve the future by creating in their classrooms its thinkers and doers. As I interview each prospective professor, I find a little voice in the back of my head asking, “Would you trust this person to shape the thinking of your daughter?”

We have labored to keep the cost of an education as affordable as possible. About 25% of our budget goes to student aid. And we are developing a program to help students put sweat-equity in their degree by working 10 hours a week. The average Trevecca student graduates with a monthly debt payment similar to that of a moderately priced used car.

Social maturity is important. We spend enormous energy to create an environment in which students come into their own identity, develop a relationship with God, and learn to navigate life in a community with values and respect.

Peer leadership is essential to a life of impact. From athletics to fine arts to dorm leadership to student government, we create opportunities for students to craft their leadership capacities long before a work-world taps them for such.

We require things – chapel attendance, abstinence from alcohol, in-hours, class attendance, etc. I know. You’d guess students would prefer to go somewhere that had no rules. But the students who transfer to us from public universities tell me how glad they are to be in a place that sets some boundaries. I’m also guessing that most work environments appreciate people who know how to live within the stated culture of an organization.

We actually love our students and have lots of fun with them. Alumni frequently tell me that Trevecca was a profound communal experience for them and they miss it dearly. Lots of our graduates apply to come back and work for the university.
As is the case with every blessing, I believe God is up to something in the world. We are blessed for service, not for the thrill of the blessing.

Great enrollment numbers are not our goal, nor are they God’s. What we are after are two simple things: Christlike character in our graduates and real-world relevance for the work they are going to do.

As the fall approaches, join me in praying for the incoming students. Our work is serious. And it is a blessing.


  1. Michelle Lunsford says

    Good words, my brother. And the heart I hear in these words reflects the experience I had – and so appreciate – from my undergraduate years (1987-1991). I’ve been known to tell people that I am the woman of God I am today in large part because I attended Trevecca. There are some things on which you simply cannot place a price-tag.

  2. Neil Wiseman says

    President Dan — I’ve watched your personal development and now your development of TNU.. I admire your character and your commitments to the Kingdom. Straight ahead! Nbw

  3. David Wilson says

    The problem I see with the question “Would you trust this person to shape the thinking of your daughter?” is that it has the potential to lead to education which does little more than reinforce established paradigms. Academia ought to be a place to safely question and challenge dominant paradigms and engage in discussion that includes diverse perspectives and worldviews. If a Nazarene education can’t stand up to the scrutiny of rigorous evidence-based, academic critique then we can’t claim it is “best value” in education. Sometimes good education leads to an adaptation of or even a rejection of a parent’s faith, and that’s okay. If, however, we prioritize the politics of faith and the church above education (ex. ostracization of science profs) then “best value” changes. Trevecca’s success, I trust, lies in intentionally nurturing room for both.

  4. Pam McGraner says

    I’m just now finding the time to read this, Dr. Boone. My daughter is just beginning her senior year at Trevecca. How I love this university. My daughter always believed that she wanted and would go to college in her home town of Columbus, OH. But God had different things in store for her. He led a young man who was an alumni of TNU to be her mentor at our church. This young man told her that he believed God intended her to go to Trevecca. She resisted at first, but due to her major, she knew that she needed to take a look. Well, she fell in love with TNU and her dad & I couldn’t be happier – even though we miss her like crazy.
    I feel an instant love when I step on campus. I know that the staff and faculty truly care about my daughter and her education – both academically, spiritually and emotionally. I know they encourage her in her field of study and I’ve seen enormous growth in her in every aspect of her life.
    It has not been easy to keep her at TNU, but the Lord has provided and we are so very grateful. As she starts her senior year with excitement, expectation, joy and great anticipation, her dad and I watch in wonder, gratitude and with great humility. I wish that I had a TNU in my past, but I’ll settle for a TNU in my daughter’s. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you as well as each and every staff/faculty member.

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