The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Study: Religious Colleges
Have Highest Graduation Rates
eligiously affiliated universities rank the highest nationwide in graduating their students, while hundreds of public and private universities fall far below the devastatingly low average of graduated students, according to a recent report based on data from the U.S. Department of Education.
From Catholic to Jewish and Baptist to Methodist, religious colleges and universities topped the charts in the American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) survey, which found an average of just 53 percent of entering students at four-year colleges graduate within six years.
Many institutions fared far worse, with graduation rates below 20 and 30 percent for students who entered in the fall of 2001. Religiously affiliated universities, however, rarely appeared in the rock-bottom rankings, and held most of the top 10 slots across six categories of admissions selectivity.
Among the "competitive" category of schools, which require students to have a C to B- high school grade average for admission, 100 percent of the top 10 schools to graduate their students were of religious orientation. The College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Massachusetts, graduated 89 percent of their students; Texas Southern University, by contrast, graduated only 12 percent.
The report by AEI, a conservative Washington-based think tank, ranked colleges based on admissions standards that ranged from "most competitive" to "noncompetitive."
The report cites reasons beyond admissions criteria that affected graduation rates, including student demographics and the schools' institutional mission. The authors, however, did not explicitly mention the colleges' religious background as factors. "While student motivation, intent, and ability matter greatly, our analysis suggests that the practices of higher education institutions matter, too," the AEI report said.
Brian Williams, the vice president of enrollment at John Carroll University in Cleveland, said religiously affiliated universities
produce more graduates because their "mission statement attracts a certain type of student, as well as a certain type of employee."
"The persistence to help students succeed is inherent in the system," said Williams, of the Jesuit university, which shared the No. 10 spot among "competitive" colleges with Pennsylvania's La Salle University and Washington state's Whitworth University, with a 74-percent graduation rate.
The report focused on the extremes of schools that either fail or succeed at handing out earned degrees. As a disclaimer, the authors repeated that the graduation rates do not always represent the quality of the university per se, but possibly the quality of their mission statements.
Obama Praised For Pushing For Religious Freedom
President Obama urged Islamic nations to recognize the importance of religious freedom and democratic values in his Cairo speech on June 4, but he failed to take a hard line on repressive laws, according to the chairwoman of a religious freedom watchdog panel.
Felice Gaer, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), nonetheless commended Obama for voicing strong support for protecting religious minorities.
"All I'm saying is he could have sprinkled (his speech) with a few more examples of problems and what the U.S. is doing to solve them," Gaer said of Obama's speech. "This is not America versus the Muslim world; these are universal values that we are trying to uphold at home and abroad."
The independent, bipartisan panel, which advises the administration and Congress on religious freedom issues, had urged the president to stress the U.S. commitment to curb religious abuses--an idea that panelists said is not always understood in the Muslim world.
Religious freedom was one of seven major points Obama addressed in his bid to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
"People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul," Obama said. "This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways. Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's."
For Gaer, the speech indicated that "religious freedom is clearly on the map," and took it as a signal that the White House had opened the door to more vigorous activity from the commission.
Other religious leaders and human rights activists, however, were more disappointed that Obama did not speak out stronger against the violence in Sudan's Darfur region at the hands of a hard-line Islamic government.
Talal Eid, a Muslim imam and commission member, however, acknowledged there is only so much the president could do in one speech. "If he elaborated more, the essence of the message would be lost," said Eid, the executive director of the Islamic Institute of Boston. “It is the first time that an American president would go outside to an Islamic country speaking openly from his heart. I believe that (his speech) touched on all important areas that concern Muslims."
Survey: Megachurches Attract Many Under 45
Megachurches are most attractive to younger adults, and almost all who arrive at their sanctuaries have darkened a church's door before, a new survey shows.
The study by Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research, released June 9 found that almost two-thirds (62 percent) of adults who attend Protestant megachurches are younger than 45, compared to 35 percent of U.S. Protestant congregations overall. Researchers found that just 6 percent of those attending a megachurch--defined as a congregation attended by 2,000 or more each week--had never attended a worship service before arriving at their current church. Almost half (44 percent) had come from another local church, 28 percent had transplanted from a distant congregation and 18 percent had not attended church for a while.
"It appears that megachurches draw persons who want a new experience of worship--contemporary, large-scale, professional, high-tech," said Scott Thumma, co-author of "Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America's Megachurches."
"For the nearly 30 percent coming from a distant church previously ... they want a place to plug in immediately to a community, missions and small groups."
Thumma said he was surprised at how much megachurch attendees invite others to worship with them; just 13 percent said they had not invited anyone in the past year.
In comparison, a different survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that 45 percent of attendees of mostly mainline Protestant churches had not invited anyone in that same time frame. "That is radically different from anything I have experienced in other churches," said Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, "and goes a long way to explain why these congregations are growing at such rapid rates."
The new study was based on responses to questionnaires by 24,900 attenders at 12 megachurches. Drawn from a possible total of 47,516, it had a 58 percent response rate, and was supplemented by researcher visits, interviews and staff surveys.
Vatican Radio to Accept Advertising to Help Pay Bills
After 78 years of broadcasting the pope's message around the world, Vatican Radio is to break with tradition and take paid commercials for the first time.
The move to mix jingles and advertising with religious programming will help balance the books at the station, which employs 500 people, broadcasts in 47 languages and costs more than $27 million a year to run.
But officials insisted only ``ideologically'' sound ads will be broadcast after first being filtered by an Italian communications firm that specializes in advertising through Catholic media. ``It is important to help Vatican Radio be present around the world and to spread the voice of the holy father,'' said Monsignor Renato Boccardo, secretary general of the Vatican City state administration. ``But Vatican Radio will have the final word on accepting commercials or not.''
The advertising initiative follows the Vatican's recent decision to increase its staff retirement age by two years to help make ends meet.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the head of Vatican Radio and the Vatican's chief spokesman, said that ``tens of thousands of euros'' would be earned during a summer trial run, when ads from Italian energy company Enel will be run in five languages.
``That is a nominal start up figure and no guide to an eventual revenue stream,'' added one official.
``We have four other names in the bag right now, depending on the results of the Enel experiment,'' Vatican Radio English section head Sean Lovett said.
In the past, Vatican Radio has run limited transmissions on short wave. Now that it broadcasts 24 hours a day on FM in much of Italy, as well as on the Internet, advertising is a more practical proposition, said Lombardi. ``This programming, with an increasingly stable public, is naturally a place where publicity can more logically be inserted.''
Global audience figures for radio programming are unavailable, said Lovett, since Vatican Radio is rebroadcast by thousands of local radio stations around the world.