Guest Post: A Letter From a Principia College Grad

The following guest post was contributed by a regular reader. The author originally intended to write this as a letter to the editor, however the author wishes at this time to remain anonymous, so they chose to share their thoughts here instead.

I am writing because I take issue with Time ranking Principia College as the Number 1 college that the average B-student can get into. I find Principia’s ranking as a viable option to be incredibly misleading. On paper, Principia has a high acceptance rate and generous scholarship offers, however, you need to look at how many people are actually applying, and the demographic that Principia is catering to.

Principia College has an incredibly high acceptance rate — 87%, but they also only admit around 100-130 students a year (the total student body at the College is under 500). Principia also only admits practicing Christian Scientists who are willing to attend college in rural Illinois, and abide by Principia’s Code of Conduct — abstaining from all premarital and extra martial sex, drinking, all drugs (including recreational, prescription, and OTC), and homosexual activity (this used to include talking about the College’s policy about homosexual activity). This narrows their applicant pool significantly.

“97% of undergraduates get scholarships that further cut the cost” — I question that number, 97% of Principia students undoubtedly do get some sort of financial aid, often in the form of loans from the college, or grants from other Christian Science Institutions. I myself attended Principia and they generously loaned me $15,000, and I worked 10-15 hours a week for the college as part of the tuition-reduction work program (TRWP — it is how they find students “willing” to work in dining services).

After clicking through to the Principia College pageTime does explain: “Principia is not for everyone – literally. The school restricts enrollment to practicing Christian Scientists (applicants are asked to submit references attesting to their church attendance).” I don’t think Time fully understands what this means. To be a practicing Christian Scientist at Principia means radically relying on prayer above all else (and often at all costs) for treatment of illness.

Page 19 of the 2012-13 Student Handbook discusses the issue of “Spiritual Reliance” at Principia:

Members of the faculty, staff, and student body are expected to rely on Christian Science for healing” (Education at The Principia: Policy number 4). In certain circumstances, temporary use of doctor-prescribed medicine is compassionately regarded (see Science and Health, page 444:7-10). Under such circumstances, the college will try to find a way to help a student complete as much of the current term’s academic work as possible, although remaining at Cox Cottage may not be an option. Students may contact their resident counselors to discuss options. Students who rely on medicine beyond one term will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued. A withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record.”  (emphasis mine)

While a “withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record” if they are gone for a year they must reapply for both admittance and financial aid (no fun task), and “student record” aside, failure to demonstrate Christian Science healings in a prompt manner is frowned upon by the community.

Principia College is not equipped with medical facilities, they have Cox Cottage, a “Christian Science Nursing” facility, where Christian Science nurses “attend” to those seeking further aid. The Christian Science nurses are very sweet women, who make a mean grilled cheese and a fabulous milkshake. This may be helpful when recovering from a mild case of upset stomach from eating in the Scramble Room (campus cafeteria), but it is far less helpful when dealing with other ailments.

I spent a very brief four hours there once, and found them to be utterly unhelpful given my situation (complications from an abscessed tooth). While very kind — they offered me soup, or a milk shake — they were utterly unhelpful at practically treating my condition. I asked for what practical physical help I could think of, was gently reprimanded (we don’t do that here!), and tucked into bed and given some Christian Science lectures on tape to listen to.

In general, Christian Scientists do not visit doctors, or vaccinate their children (or college students), and this, combined with a lack of medical knowledge, has led to two measles outbreaks: in 1985 and in 1994 (see links below).

Since Principia College only hires Christian Scientists, this dramatically limits their field of qualified candidates, and while there are many qualified professors, they regularly hire people fresh from grad school, not yet PhDs, often Principia graduates themselves, who are lured by the promise of working off their own student loans, and the possibility of getting a doctorate. Some departments are better qualified than others.

Professors and staff at Principia College also have no job security. They are hired on one-year contracts that may, or may not, be renewed the next year. Professors and staff are required to be on several committees, and active both on campus and in their local branch church. There have been substantial cutbacks in services to assist students academically — there is no more freshman writing program, and the “Writing Center” has long since been shuttered — so professors must also tutor students in basic writing and grammar.

Efforts to make changes at Principia are stymied by the one-year contracts. While there is much talk of “moral courage”, job security comes before social change. Students may also be “requested to leave” for a variety of reasons, usually the ones pertaining to the aforementioned Principia Code of Conduct.

Several years ago I was “the average B-student” who attend Principia College. With extreme religious views, and slowly deteriorating academics, the “average B-student” would be better served elsewhere. Given the minuscule portion of the population that Principia serves, I feel that placing Principia in the number one spot for the “average” B-student is incredibly misleading.


For more information:

Time/Money articles:

Principia Community values:

Principia College/community & measles outbreaks:

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