Freezing tuition, room and board rates for 2021-22

Dear Hope Community,

As we wrap up this semester and begin to look ahead, I’m excited to announce that the Hope College Board of Trustees has approved a freeze to the tuition, room and board rates for the 2021-22 academic year. For the first time since 1968, the cost of a Hope education will not increase in the coming year.

A difficult year. In part, this freeze is our response to a difficult year that Hope students and families have endured. Given the challenges of 2020, we are proud of all that our students have accomplished. No other cohort in recent memory has been as resilient, focused and dedicated in the face of adversity. We know that, for many students and families, financial hardship was a particular source of adversity. It is our hope that, by keeping tuition, room and board flat, we can help mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on Hope’s students and families.  

A counter-cultural position. The decision to keep costs flat, however, is more than simply a response to challenging times. Against the spiraling cost of higher education, it is a deliberate move to be counter-cultural.

For decades, colleges and universities in the United States have increased the sticker price of tuition at roughly double the rate of inflation. Increasing tuition year over year is now assumed — as if it’s the law of gravity. It’s no longer “if,” but “by how much?” Hope has not been immune to this cultural assumption; until now, we’ve followed the trend, raising our tuition every year for more than 50 consecutive years. 

Looking ahead, tuition increases for an excellent residential college education are unlikely to slow — and may even get worse in the coming years. 

Here’s what’s happening on a national level: The cost of running a college has never been more expensive than it is right now (due to COVID-19), and at the same time, revenue is decreasing because of declining enrollment. The combination of higher expenses and less revenue means more pressure on scholarship dollars. With less scholarship money available, the real cost of college will go up yet again — this year and likely for several years to come.

That is the phenomenon occurring nationally. At Hope, we, too, have been strained financially this year. Nevertheless we are well-positioned to do something different. Our enrollment is strong, our financial balance sheet is healthy, and we’ve been smart about how we spend money. Sure, given the headwinds and future uncertainty, it would be easiest to follow what’s always been done. But we are committed to a longer-term ambition of making Hope more affordable and accessible. 

Despite current challenges, we remain relentlessly — and counter-culturally — focused on that goal.

A new thing. In my inauguration speech, less than 18 months ago, I said something that was and continues to be on my heart: “God is one who never changes . . . and yet also a God who does new things. I feel God moving here now . . . doing a new thing at Hope College.” I’ve never lost the feeling that God is doing a new thing at Hope College. In fact, I feel it even more strongly today than last year.   

The decision to keep tuition, room and board costs flat marks a pivot toward doing a “new thing” relative to the business model of higher education. We believe Hope can be a leader with regard to one of the biggest societal issues of our day: the cost of a college degree. 

Hope has already set itself apart this year, and we can continue to do so by tackling tough questions facing higher education. This is the first step toward the goal of a different approach to funding higher education and, ultimately, improving how we provide a transformational Christian education that equips students to bring HOPE to the world. 

Spera in Deo!

Matthew A. Scogin
President
Hope College

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

Dr. Gordon Van Wylen (1920-2020)

To the Hope College Community,

It’s with sadness that I write to inform you that our former president, colleague and friend, Dr. Gordon Van Wylen, passed away early this morning at age 100. 

Dr. Van Wylen was a remarkable human being — a vibrant and passionate leader who devoted his life to God, the pursuit of knowledge, and public service. He had a profound, positive impact on countless lives.

He served as Hope’s president from 1972 until 1987, and his extraordinary leadership and vision has left an enduring mark on this college. 

As president, Dr. Van Wylen penned the mission statement that still guides us. He was also a champion of the physical development of our campus — notably architecting the closure of 12th Street that made the Pine Grove what it is today. In short, he helped us center our purpose AND created the center of our campus. That’s a remarkable legacy, and we will miss him greatly.

Please join me in passing along heartfelt condolences and prayers to his son and daughter-in-law, Dave and Pat Van Wylen, and the rest of their family. Dave will shortly end his time as Dean of Natural and Applied Sciences and move into the Office of Possibilities and Applied Innovation; Pat is Hope’s Global Travel Program Coordinator.

On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunities I had to visit with him and pray together over the last couple years. Soon after I was named president, Dave took me to see him at Freedom Village, and President Van Wylen gave me this advice — “being a Christ follower means being a servant leader.” That’s exactly what made Gordon Van Wylen a great man and a perfect role model for me.

Dr. Gordon Van Wylen had a human spirit that radiated the Christian gospel. He fought the good fight and finished the race well; he was indeed a good and faithful servant. Today he joins Margaret, his wife of 66 years, in heaven.

To honor and celebrate his legacy, we will have a moment of silence on campus with a ringing of the chapel bells today, November 5, at 5 p.m.

You can read more about his life and legacy here.

Spera in Deo,

Matthew A. Scogin
President
Hope College

Resilient Hope on Election Eve

Dear Students of Hope,

This year, 2020, has been a year of turmoil unlike any other in your lifetime.  And much of the drama is coming to a head right now. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the most vicious, mean-spirited political season in modern history has reached its pinnacle. We are on the eve of the 2020 election – and we are worn out. We are tired of all the vitriol, name-calling, stereotyping and polarization. 

Hope College is not a political organization. We have never endorsed political candidates, and we aren’t about to start doing so now. You all are more than capable of making your own political choices. 

Where we do take a clear stance, however, is regarding our allegiance. At Hope, our allegiance is to God above politics. 

For too many people, political tribes have become family, even religion. We remember that ultimately God’s family – God’s kingdom – is the only one that lasts forever. Therefore, our allegiance is to God above country, party and political opinion.

That means our identity is not defined by the outcome of tomorrow’s election. No matter who wins, we have reason to take heart, because God is on the throne.

When all is said and done, I pray that we will look back and say that 2 Cor 1:12 characterized the Hope community. “We have conducted ourselves in the world . . . with integrity and sincerity from God. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.”

Conducting ourselves according to God’s grace has never been more needed.

As a result of a large number of people voting by mail, it is likely that the final outcome of this election will not be clear right away. It is important to be prepared for uncertainty – and the potential for anxiety – that may follow. During this time, let’s conduct ourselves according to God’s grace.

After the 2000 election, which occurred while I was a student at Hope, the outcome was unclear for several weeks. I remember the unease that gripped our nation (and Hope’s campus) during that time. But I also remember that it was a fascinating time to be a student. That can be true now also. While not ignoring the stress of the day, we can step out of the current moment and be curious observers of this historic period. Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips. Schedule office hours with your professors, and enjoy discussions with your classmates. Some scholars will spend their entire lives studying this time in human history, and you get the chance to live through it as a student.

The potential for prolonged uncertainty combined with heated rhetoric, polarization and already high levels of anxiety from the COVID pandemic, has caused many to predict civil unrest or violence throughout our country after the election.  This could manifest itself in large or small ways.

It goes without saying that violence (or intimidation of any kind) is completely inconsistent with the type of Christ-centered discourse based on love and listening that we have been talking about all semester. Yet even as we avoid conflict on our campus, please be mindful that some of your peers may feel afraid for their safety because of the current climate. Therefore, as people who “love thy neighbor,” let’s continue to find ways to let uncommon love characterize our campus.

The story of our semester, it seems, is coming to a climax this week – with COVID cases rising, election day drama peaking and the stress of final exams looming. As we go through the next several days, it is worth stepping back and remembering how far we’ve come this year. You all have proven to be the most resilient group of students to study at Hope in several generations. 

You are resilient. You have endured. You have bounced back from unprecedented disruption. As we near the finish line of this extraordinary semester, remember where endurance comes from. Endurance comes from HOPE (1 Thess 1:3).

You have inspired me in profound ways this year. Let’s continue to show the world what it means to be a people of hope.

Spera in Deo!


Matthew A. Scogin
President
Hope College

This message was originally sent via email to the students, faculty, and staff of Hope College.

Election Season: A Time for Belonging, Understanding and Grace — and HOPE

We are just over two weeks away from Election Day. Throughout this campaign season, our nation has been experiencing increasing levels of vitriol, disrespect and hostility — and those experiences are having a corrosive effect on our communities. At a time when others are sowing seeds of discord, we aspire to live fully into our name, HOPE.

In the spirit of HOPE, our divisional teams will be working together to provide resources and opportunities that engage the body, mind, spirit and community in the days before and after the election. United by our faith and driven by our mission, we aim to offer encouragement and support to students and employees alike.

At the heart of our work is a commitment to belonging, understanding and grace — the three-part framework that Hope’s Culture Task Force established last year.

Belonging: Everyone here feels it’s their Hope. Together we celebrate diversity and together we share in defining Hope.
Understanding: Even when we don’t agree, we work to understand each other better and move forward. We disagree well. We can respectfully discuss emotional and consequential issues.
Grace: We extend our best to each other and we believe the best of one another. We strive to foster a culture of trust and accountability. Our culture is free from threat, intimidation, gossip and retaliation. People always have someone they can turn to for help.

As important as it is to define belonging, understanding and grace, it is equally important to be clear about what is not acceptable in the Hope community. In the weeks before and after the election — and indeed at all times — it is unacceptable to:

  • Display symbols of hate
  • Speak racial slurs
  • Participate in acts of vandalism
  • Participate in acts of intimidation or violence

As we head into this final stretch before the election, please watch for updates regarding events, activities and resources on campus. Through these opportunities, we will endeavor to listen to one another, ask questions, and consider each others’ perspectives.  

We all are connected, and we all have a role to play in keeping Hope’s campus a place of belonging, understanding and grace. Thank you for everything you are doing to keep HOPE!

Spera in Deo —
Dr. Richard Frost, Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students
Dr. Gerald Griffin, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs
Rev. Dr. Trygve Johnson, Dean of the Chapel
Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, Chief Officer for Culture and Inclusion

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Below is the text, as prepared, of President Matthew A. Scogin’s speech on christian political discourse, delivered to a Hope student and employee audience via Zoom from Diment Chapel, on September 24, 2020. President Scogin’s remarks were followed by a faculty panel discussion and live audience Q/A.

Introduction

40 Days from today is election day. We’re in the thick of it now. We’re in the middle of an election season, and it’s not just any election season. This election season is proving to be the most volatile election season that our country has seen in a very long time. And this election season is falling in the midst of a world that seems like everything is broken all around us.

One thing that’s happened is all of this brokenness now has a political element to it. COVID has a political element to it. Masks have a political element. Racial justice, forest fires, everything seems to have a political element to it. I didn’t even mention killer bees or the Tiger King!

Everything seems to have a political element to it, and everyone seems to have an opinion on all of these things. Everyone certainly has an opinion on the election.

But the question tonight is “What does God think about all of this?”

That’s what we are trying to descipher tonight.

The title of our event this evening is Who Would Jesus Vote For. I hate to start by disappointing you, but that title was a tease.

We’re not actually going to answer the question. In part because, of course, we don’t know the answer to the question.  But more importantly, because it isn’t actually the right question to ask.

In the 1990s, a youth group leader right here in Holland, Michigan began a grassroots movement asking teenagers to consider the question, coined by Charles Sheldon in a bestselling book from a hundred years prior, – What Would Jesus Do. It spread and before long, Christian youth around the world were wearing WWJD bracelets. 

It can certainly be helpful to ask that question and try to project Jesus into a situation and imagine how he might have responded – especially one that is as thorny and volatile as today’s political environment. 

But it can also be dangerous.  Because we can attribute to the Jesus we imagine things that Jesus never did or said.  The Jesus of our imagination may not act anything like the real Jesus.

It also dangerously gives the impression that God gives simple answers to complicated questions. It presumes that Christianity is just a shortcut. Most of this time, it isn’t the case that when we are facing a complicated dilemma, God slips us the answer underneath the desk. In the classroom, that’s called cheating.

God isn’t like that. 

A better question is: HOW should Jesus shape our politics? We all have our own political loyalties, ideas and dispositions….  The question is: when your politics meet Jesus what should happen? That’s the real question I am going to try to answer tonight.

Here’s the bottom line: Jesus challenges the politics in all of us – right, left, Trump, Biden.

This means one net result from my speech (if I do it well) is that everyone should feel challenged; in other words, my goal is to offend everybody, equally.

So I won’t be checking my email for the next two weeks….  Just kidding! But seriously, if you have criticism to share after tonight, that’s great – just email campushealth@hope.edu.

For my comments I want to ask three questions: 

  • How should Jesus shape our political allegiance? 
  • How should he shape our political beliefs? 
  • And how should he shape our political discourse?

Allegiance

Let’s start by asking ourselves the question: How should Jesus shape our political allegiance? 

Quite helpfully, we have a situation in the Bible where Jesus himself was asked about his political allegiance. The story occurs when Jesus is questioned about paying taxes to Caesar.

The question was posed by two groups: the Pharisees and the Herodians. We know this question is a political question because the Pharisees and the Herodians were opponents on political issues. 

The Pharisees were religious leaders who opposed the Roman occupation of the Jews. The Herodians were pro-Herod Jews; they supported the rule of Rome.

Their question gets at the heart of their political division. They ask “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 

In essence, two opposing political parties asking him to take a side, asking “which party do you belong to?” Do you support Rome, or not? It’s like a group of Trump supporters and Biden supporters coming to Jesus and asking “who are you going to vote for?” It’s a dramatic scene.

And the question is a trap, because either answer has Jesus in trouble. If he says “no, don’t pay the tax,” he is essentially calling for rebellion against Rome. But if he says, “yes, it’s fine to pay the tax,” he is essentially supporting the Roman occupation – showing allegiance to Caesar. That means all his talk about the Kingdom of God is just that – talk; ultimately he too bows to Rome. 

It’s a gotcha question.  And we’re familiar with this type of question today.  

When politicians today get questions like this, they briefly acknowledge the question and then pivot – start talking about something else.  And you and I are watching the TV thinking: just answer the question! But it’s not their fault. They can’t answer the question because it has been specifically designed to trap them.  

That is exactly the case here – but Jesus doesn’t pivot. He answers the question directly without falling into the trap.  And the Bible says the crowd was amazed at his response.  

What’s his response?

First, he asks somebody to bring him a coin. They brought him one, and he asks, “whose picture is on the coin?”

They say: Caesar’s. Jesus says: ok, that means this is Caesar’s coin. So, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – what belongs to him, and has his image and likeness stamped upon it. But then he says, “and give unto God what is God’s” – that which has God’s image stamped upon it. Meaning, you. Your heart. Your life. Your allegiance.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t pick a side between political parties, but he does pick a side between politics and religion. 

Because which is more significant: paying a tax? Or rendering your life to God?

In surrendering your life to God, Jesus is saying: God comes first in your life, and in your politics.

He’s not advocating rebellion against Rome, but He IS calling for total rebellion of your HEART against anything that isn’t the authority of God.

In other words: your allegiance belongs to God.

This should be the “first principle” for Christians as we engage in politics. Our allegiance to God is primary.

That means that, before you’re an American, you’re a citizen of God’s kingdom. Before you’re Republican or Democrat, you’re a Christian. Before you follow Biden or Trump, you follow Jesus.

It means that we let Jesus inform our politics – not the other way around! 

It means we reorder our politics around the values of Jesus – not try to fit Jesus into our agenda.

Too often we elevate politics to the level of religion. And we end up more in love with our political party than we are in love with Jesus. 

This elevation of politics to the status of religious conviction stems at least in part from a uniquely American tendency to revere our country.

Have you ever seen a church that has a cross and an American flag displayed up front?  That’s not OK.  It implies that God and the country are on the same level.  God is a million times more important than the United States. 

Or have you heard the phrase “for God and country”? Pledging allegiance to God and country in the same breath implies that they are of the same importance. That is a problem.

That’s Jesus’ message to us when he says “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”

Allegiance to God over country and party also has implications for our political positions.

Just as we shouldn’t exalt politics to the level of religion, so too we shouldn’t let political opinions rise to the same level of religious conviction.

You might say, “well, I get that, but aren’t there some things that are clearly right and wrong?”

The answer, of course, is yes.  There are many things that are clearly right and wrong – as moral matters.   But it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are right and wrong politically.  

Morality doesn’t translate cleanly to public policy. To do so – to make that one-to-one translation between morality and policy – is to elevate our political leanings to the status of religious convictions.

And we can’t do that, because policy isn’t as clear as morality. Yes, there are some things that Scripture is clear about, that are true or false, right or wrong. But just because something is TRUE doesn’t mean that it should be LEGISLATED. Just because something is WRONG doesn’t mean that it should be ILLEGAL. 

For example, pornography is wrong.  But because we believe in free speech as a first principle, very few people would argue in favor of making pornography illegal. 

Just because something is wrong doesn’t mean we should make it illegal.  And just because something is right doesn’t mean it should be mandatory.  

Let me give another example… The Bible is very clear: it is a commandment to take care of the poor. That’s a moral absolute – it’s a matter right and wrong. But that doesn’t mean all Christians have to support government redistribution programs.  It’s OK to disagree on HOW we take care of the poor. It’s OK to look at government welfare programs and ask “do those programs really help pull people away from life on the margins…  OR do they just enable them to live there?”

So, if you say, I’m a Christian and the Bible says we have to take care of the poor, therefore I’m only going to vote Democrat…  You’re being overly simplistic, and Jesus was OK with complexity. 

Let’s take another example that has become a flagship issue for conservatives – abortion. The way I read the Bible, abortion is wrong – a moral absolute. But again just because it is wrong doesn’t mean we have to agree that it should be legislated in a certain way.

It’s OK to ask questions like: What would actually happen if we made abortion illegal? Would abortion rates go down or up? What money would change hands? What are the unintended consequences?

So, if you say I’m a Christian and I’m pro-life therefore I’m only going to vote for politicians who promise to appoint pro-life judges….  I guess what I have to say about that is “it’s a good thing politicians can’t lie!”

Because if they could and if they caught wind of the fact that the Christian political thought process was that simplistic, there would be a temptation to think, “well if that’s all it takes to win your vote, I’m just going to say I’ll appoint pro-life judges to get your support.” With no intention of following through.  And then Christians have been taking advantage of.

Twenty years after Roe v Wade, it was upheld by another Supreme Court case – Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992.  The five justices who voted to uphold Roe in that case, had one thing in common: they were all appointed by Republicans.  Three of them were specifically appointed by presidents who promised to appoint pro-life judges.

So, when Christians say I’m only going to vote for the person who promises to appoint pro-life judges, that kind of thinking opens us to being used.

Finally, Christians should be very alarmed by any politician who uses God’s name or Scripture as a way to score political points. 

No party owns Jesus. He cannot be mapped on to a political divide. When asked about the tax: he didn’t pick a side! So using God’s name to promote a particular political platform is mapping something onto Jesus that he refused to map onto Himself. And you know what? There’s a name for that: it’s called using God’s name in vain.

I’m not saying I don’t want Christian politicians, but I am saying that it is OFF LIMITS to use God for political gain.

And as voters, we should be more savvy. Christians shouldn’t follow someone just because they sound like one of us. 

Politics requires the kind of shrewd thinking that Jesus calls us to.  Politics is messy; it’s about compromise. We can’t enter that space unwilling to allow for complexity and shades of grey.

The coin that Jesus asks to see illustrates this. We know exactly what Jesus was looking at when he asked to see the coin, a Denarius, because originals exist to this day. If you go to a museum to look at a Denarius, you would see the image of Caesar, as well as an inscription. It says: Caesar Augustus, King, High Priest, Son of God. 

This was a common claim for a Roman Emperor to make. But it’s blasphemous for Jews and Christians. 

Jesus is the only King and Son of God! Yet Jesus says – pay the tax. In doing so, Jesus rejects purity of moral absolutism.

Moral absolutism applied to politics is one of the main problems with discourse today. Christians treat their political positions as THE only Christian position, the position Jesus would vote for. And that comes from a misalignment of allegiance: where is your primary loyalty? Your positions; the positions of your party? The values of this country? Or the Kingdom of God?

That’s the first section, allegiance. Our allegiance must be to God first. Give to God your allegiance, your life, your heart. Don’t let politics become your religion. And, don’t elevate political issues to the same level as moral issues; “give to Caesar” by accepting the messiness and complexity of politics.

Beliefs

The next question is: how does allegiance to Jesus affect my political beliefs?

The answer is: quite a lot. We all have our own political beliefs, but if your primary allegiance is to God, he should challenge your views wherever you fall on the political spectrum

Here’s what this means…  If you’re a conservative, Jesus should make you more liberal. If you’re a liberal, Jesus should make you more conservative. I’ll take those two points in turn. And give both liberals and conservatives each a turn in the hot seat.

First, your politics should become more liberal if you’re a conservative. 

To be clear: I’m saying that you should become more liberal, not A liberal. You don’t have to stop being a conservative. But there are certain things you HAVE to care about if you’re a Christian – and some of these are issues that typically fall on the left side of the political spectrum.

What areas? I’m going to list four specific issues, with a Bible verse for each, and you’ll notice that the principle from scripture sounds a lot more like something that would come out of the Democratic party than the Republican party.

  1. Poverty: Leviticus 25: If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him . . . take no interest from him or profit.
  2. Racial Reconciliation: Ephesians 2: For Christ Himself has made Jews and Gentiles one people and has broken down in His crucified body the dividing wall of hostility. AND Revelation 7: behold, a great multitude . . . from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing together before the throne . ”
  3. On the Environment: Genesis 2: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
  4. And Immigration: Leviticus 19: When a stranger sojourns among you, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 

I’m not saying that one verse from the Bible proves anything; you can find a Bible verse to support just about any position. However, on these specific issues, you can find a lot more to support what is traditionally a more liberal political viewpoint. That means: these are priorities on God’s agenda that Christians can. not. disregard..

Jesus summarizes it (and shows how personal this is to God) when he says in Matthew 25 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for me.’

God’s agenda takes “the least of these” and makes them his most important priority. 

There is plenty of room for disagreement about our approach to these issues. Conservatives, don’t have to adopt liberal solutions. But SOME conservatives are guilty of disregarding these issues entirely. Not talking about them at all. That’s out of bounds. Christians cannot have a coldness or hardness to these issues.

Now, liberals, your turn for the hot seat…  If you’re a liberal, your politics should become more conservative when you meet Jesus. 

Again, you don’t have to become A conservative, but MORE conservative.

Instead of pointing to specific issues, I’m going to zoom out a bit and look at three principles. They’re principles that scripture presupposes, and they typically fall in the conservative camp. These are truths that liberals who are Christians must acknowledge. 

  1. The first is our understanding of human nature. Scripture challenges the typically more liberal assumption that humans are basically good and capable of being improved. The Bible is clear that we’re fallen, and that there’s deep evil in all of us. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” One version adds “and beyond cure.” 

This means that when it comes to government programs, liberals must remember that where there is an opportunity to take advantage of something, people will do so. Because the heart is evil. 

And this impacts how we should understand the source of injustice… Nelson Mandella said that no one is born racist, “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin.” 

With all due respect to Mr. Mandella, I don’t buy it. Because if racism has to be taught, the question is, who is doing the teaching.  And you say “it’s these evil cultures, societies, and structures that teach us to be racist.” Then the question is, who put those evil structures together and who built those evil cultures?  You say, evil people who got in there and had too much power. But then who taught those people to be evil… You keep going back, but there’s never a real answer.  

If you don’t believe that racism comes from within, there’s no other answer that makes sense. 

A popular meme on social media shows a group of babies sitting together representing different races and it says “no one is born racist.” It’s a beautiful sentiment but if you know anything about real kids (and I have three of them!) you know that actual children look for anything that is different about someone else – and pick on it.  Because we were born fallen, selfish, and prideful. 

The most systemic, far-reaching injustice in our world is that which is within the human heart.

Being naive to this is what allows politicians to appeal to bigotry for political gain.  And if you heard Fred’s chapel talk yesterday he talked about how this has happened too many times throughout American history.

2. Number two: liberals must be cautious about sweeping change. Scripture challenges the assumption that change happens quickly. Consider the parable of the mustard seed: an analogy for the coming Kingdom of God, the mustard seed starts tiny, grows deep roots, then sprouts and grows, before it gets large and provides branches and shade. 

The Bible is saying that’s how effective change usually works, and when somebody (a politician) promises otherwise, we should be suspicious.

Massive change all at once often ends with unintended consequences and mixed success. Conservatives get labeled as anti-progress, but a lot of that instinct comes from a wise – and Biblical – view that true and effective change is slow and thoughtful.

3. Finally, the modality of change: liberals must be cautious about letting the church abdicate its role to the government. Acts 4 paints a clear picture of the church’s responsibility to share possessions and give so that “there were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). The church is supposed to be the “first responder.”  But government spending on social programs can cause what economists call the “crowding out effect.” For example, when federal spending to help the poor increased from 0% to 4% of the GDP under FDR’s New Deal, church-based charity to help the poor dropped by 30%. The government has taken over much of what the church was intended to provide. 

As before, there’s room for debate about the specifics here, but the point is that there are some truths about the world presupposed by Scripture which typically fall in the more “conservative” camp. These are things that liberals must acknowledge.

So whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal, Jesus should challenge your political leanings. 

The real takeaway here is: we shouldn’t hold our political convictions so tightly that we’re not open to the voice of Scripture. And it’s most important to look at parts of scripture that grade against your natural human instincts politically. There’s a lot in the Bible. You can’t just focus on the parts of the Bible that you naturally agree with and that you like. Because if you’re only letting those parts inform your thinking and your politics, you’re not growing.

We tend to like parts of the Bible that are challenging to others and ignore parts of the Bible that are challenging to ourselves.  

As we let Jesus challenge our political beliefs, it actually creates more space for robust discussion and healthy disagreement.

Which leads me to my final point: discourse. As Christians engaging in politics, Jesus should teach us how to disagree well.

Discourse

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that our country disagrees a lot. We’re very divided. And we don’t disagree well! It gets nasty.

Many say that the division in our country is characterized by ANGER. If only that were true: anger, while sometimes with negative effects, is ultimately a productive emotion. It occurs when we see something we believe to be wrong and feel like we can do something about it. It has great social purpose, and can catalyze problem solving.

Arthur Brooks says the problem with our divisive political climate isn’t anger, it’s CONTEMPT. Contempt is not just seeing those who disagree with you as incorrect or misguided, but seeing them as worthless

That’s what has to change…  seeing those who are different than we are – including those we find offensive! – as lacking worth.

Jesus has a line in Matthew 11 where he says “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  I’ve always been puzzled by that line. Why would anyone be offended by Jesus? I know what I’m offended by! What I find offensive is: injustice, human trafficking, racism, homophobia, hate crimes.

But do you know what’s even more offensive than those things? A God who forgives those sins!

And the God we serve does forgive those sins. And we must do the same. Because in God’s eyes every person is loved and has worth.

Following Jesus comes down to two things – a radical devotion to God (that’s the allegiance we talked about) and radical love for each other.  (That’s what should shape discourse.)

And if we enter into political discourse with radical love for each other that will change the nature of our division.

The solution to our destructive discourse isn’t less disagreement. Our goal is not uniformity of ideas!

Neither is our goal civility – that’s too low of a standard for Christians. Some say we should strive for “civil” discourse. And yet sometimes it is OK to disagree passionately. If I told you that my wife Sarah and I were being “civil” to one another, you wouldn’t applaud us, you would tell us to get counseling! 

The solution to a country filled with contemptuous discourse is the opposite of contempt, which is LOVE.

LOVE is compatible with frustration, conviction, even anger! We can have passionate and animated disagreements in LOVE! But love is NOT compatible with hatred. With contempt. With the desire to be “right” or prove myself “better,” at the expense of another person.

Following Jesus should make us more loving people, and more loving in our political discourse. 

What exactly does this mean?  I think it first must entail listening to others – showing respect for their convictions.  There are people at Hope College who think differently than you.  It is loving to get to know them and listen to them. 

As one of our rules of discourse I think it should be the case that you aren’t allowed to criticize someone unless you can frame their argument in ways that they would recognize and support.  This can’t be done without first paying them the respect of listening.

If someone is criticizing me and they haven’t really listened to me first, I’m going to write them off – and I probably should!  Because they aren’t actually criticizing me. They are criticizing what they think I am. 

We like to categorize people and then criticize those categories. 

To avoid that we have to listen.  Our world is not set up for listening… It’s set up for posting and speaking. Talking about each other, rather than to each other. 

My opinion – and I say this with trepidation because I know it may be unpopular – but in my opinion social media is NOT the place to have political conversations of any kind.

I simply do not see the value of posting anything political – any commentary, any opinion – on social media. I see how it makes you feel better to get something off your chest, but I don’t see how it helps anyone other than you.  I don’t see how it adds anything to our discourse.  I DO see how it hurts relationships and furthers division.

And on top of that, no one is listening.  They aren’t hearing it on social media. They aren’t being challenged by it.  No one has ever changed their mind in the history of the world based on a comment they read on social media. Instead it leads to a virtual shouting match.

If you want to challenge or confront someone, the ONLY way to do it is through a one-on-one conversation – in which you listen as much as you speak.

That, I think, is how we Christians should approach political discourse: make listening the first priority.  Stepping into the political arena with love and the acknowledgment that however bad we think the other side is, God adores them as his children.

So back to our big question… 

How does Jesus inform our political engagement?  First our primary allegiance is to God – above country, political party or political issue.  Second, Jesus should challenge your political beliefs – making you more liberal if you’re a conservative and more conservative if you’re a liberal.  Third, our discourse should be characterized by love and listening.

Conclusion

As I conclude my comments and turn it over to the panel discussion, I just want to make one final comment, which is simply a reminder for us as Christians to keep all of this in perspective.

Yes this election is important.  Yes, it matters.  Yes this seems like a consequential moment in history.

But, at the same time, let’s not over-exaggerate the importance of this election – or any election for that matter.  And let’s keep our hope in Jesus stronger than our hope in government.

Psalm 146 says this:

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

In Biblical times someone was generally in power for their entire lifetime. And even after a lifetime of governing – the Bible says their plans will come to nothing.

We are electing someone for only four years. As Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address: “no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government, in the short space of four years.”

There is a limit to what anyone can do in four years.  So don’t put your trust in princes… 

The next few lines from Psalm 146 are remarkable:

Blessed are those…whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 ..    He remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
10 The Lord reigns forever

Those verses list all the groups of people we talked about earlier – the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant. We said every Christian MUST care about these people. But notice who is ultimately taking care of them – God is!

God is the one who upholds justice. And so, if someone wins the election and you worry about what it means, God is saying “I got this. I’m in control and my reign lasts forever”

Do you know what’s happening in heaven right now? There is a Jesus rally that has been going on since the beginning of time.  The Bible says in Revelation that the heavens are roaring with praise because God is on the throne. 

Do you know what will be happening tomorrow?  The heavens will be roaring with praise because God is on the throne.

Do you know what will be happening the day after the election? The heavens will be roaring with praise because God is on the throne.

No one in heaven will protest or throw a party, shed a tear or celebrate based on the results of the election. 

Instead, they will continue roaring with praise, “holy, holy, holy,” because God is on the throne.

And if we really want to know – what would Jesus do…  that’s our answer.  He is and always will part of this ongoing raucous celebration of our good Father.  And maybe that’s what we should do too.

Join in that rally – praising God. Because our hope is in Him, the one who saves. The only one who is worth of glory and honor and power.

Anchor Op-Ed: Doing the Hard Things

This piece was published in Hope College’s Student Newspaper, The Anchor. You can find the original post HERE.

We are now a few weeks into our Fall semester, and one thing has become abundantly clear to all of us: this is hard! I miss gathering together in person. I miss chapel; I miss sporting events; I miss the Phelps ice cream machine! We have signed up for a difficult semester. 

The question is: why did we choose this? Why was the Hope College staff and faculty motivated to work long hours all summer—what is usually a time of rest—to make it possible for you to come back? Why did you, students, overwhelmingly want to be back on campus, even though you knew it would be different? And why are we, as a community, committed to doing hard, uncomfortable things for the sake of staying on-campus together? 

Here are some of my reasons for choosing to do this hard thing, and why I think it will be worth it.

The first is that you will build relationships. Now this might sound counterintuitive: isn’t it harder than ever to make friends? But think of it this way: right now, we are living through an era that will define this century and will define your generation. For the rest of your time in college, for the next 10 years, at your 20 or even 50 year college reunion, you will remember and be talking about this semester. For the rest of your life, you’ll be saying things like, “I went to college during COVID,” or, “Remember when we met, you were wearing that mask?” For some of you, this will be your love story: “The first thing I noticed was her lovely eyes… because that was all I could see underneath her mask.” Shared experience is rich soil for relationships. As we live in this era together, you will make memories and friends that will last a lifetime. 

Second, we want you here even though it is hard because we believe you have a lot to contribute. You have already proven your grit and resilience. You have dealt with an abrupt pivot to online classes, the disappointment of so many cancelled sports games, concerts, and events and you’re adapting to the current guidelines like champions. You are learning a lot. You are supporting each other. We know that you have a lot to contribute, and therefore you will make an impact here at Hope—and beyond! 

Shared experience is rich soil for relationships. As we live in this era together, you will make memories and friends that will last a lifetime. 

Finally, and more broadly, we have chosen to do a hard thing this semester because we believe the world needs what we have here. The world is full of despair! It seems like we can’t go a day without another tragedy or hardship—from acts of police brutality to struggles with mental health—rearing its ugly head in the news or in our personal lives. The world needs hope! There is no better time to shape leaders to go out into the world as problem solvers and agents of hope. That’s you, and we are excited and determined to help equip you with what you need to spread hope to the world. 

Yes, this Fall is going to be hard. There are lots of things we don’t like. And yet, as we yearn for this season to be over, we should also look for the opportunities that exist in the here and now. That is a profoundly Biblical mindset. As Christians, we yearn for God’s redemption of the world, but we don’t spend our whole lives just yearning for heaven! We look for joy in the midst of current suffering and keep our eyes set on the reasons whywe persevere. That’s a mindset of hope. 

“My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.” 

James 1:2-4, TPT

Thank you, Hope College, for your endurance. You’re an inspiration. 

Letter to Alumni: Hope Ready

Dear Hope Alumni,

This week, we began our 159th academic year at Hope College. Throughout our history, we have opened in the midst of the Civil War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession. We have opened in the midst of many challenging periods, but we’ve never begun a school year quite like this. 

Our faculty and staff have worked all summer long to prepare for opening in the midst of these unusual circumstances. As our students adjust to college life with masks and distancing, we wanted to share some of our preparation for safe and productive in-person instruction.

First, we made the decision over the summer to adjust our fall calendar.  Classes began on August 17th, two weeks earlier than originally planned, and our semester will conclude on Tuesday, November 24th (before Thanksgiving).  We also changed Fall Break to be two separate, midweek days off rather than the typical four day weekend.  These changes will limit movement to and from campus, helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  

In order to make sure that all our students — including those who will not be able to be on campus in the fall — stay on schedule for their planned graduation date, Hope’s course schedule for the fall semester includes in-person, hybrid and online classes. Hybrid courses feature a blend of in-person and online components.

In addition, the college has created a comprehensive, three-component COVID-19 testing plan specifically tailored to the Hope community and informed by the expertise of public health officials and our own faculty experts.

There is no better place to cultivate and spread hope through the world than a college for which true, biblical hope is a foundational identity.

Before arriving on campus, every student and employee was tested for COVID-19, most through a pre-arrival kit sent to their home. We administered a total of 3,979 COVID-19 tests, and of those, 99.04% were negative. Our 0.96% positive rate is significantly lower than the current national positive rate of 6.6% and the state positive rate of 2.5%.  A vast majority of the 38 positive cases were identified through the pre-arrival kit and are quarantining at home, and for the few that are on campus, we are prepared with robust isolation and quarantine housing protocols.

Second, we will test 1% of the students every weekday, in a strategy developed by Dr. Ben Kopek, an associate professor of biology with expertise in virology.  The sample size reflects a commitment to conducting successful surveillance while saving enough tests for clinical care of individuals.

Third, we will conduct wastewater testing to determine if the virus is present in specific residential zones on campus.  This innovative project is being led by faculty members Dr. Aaron Best, Dr. Brent Krueger and Dr. Mike Pikaart, who have long led water-quality research at Hope.  If the levels of the virus rise in a particular zone, we will conduct follow-up testing of residents. This will allow us to stay on top of, and mitigate the risk of, a potential outbreak.

While we have confidence in our testing plan, we realize that we’ll likely have cases on our campus this semester. We are prepared to respond, with testing available as soon as any student recognizes symptoms of COVID-19, and with quarantine space available for those who test positive.

We’re also taking many of the sorts of steps that you might expect.  For example, we’re promoting physical distancing by spacing desks in all classrooms six feet apart.  On campus, we’re all to wear masks, complete a daily screening form, and regularly sanitize our hands and spaces.

We’re undoubtedly signing up for a harder semester than if we continued the fully remote instruction that we implemented in March, but we see four compelling reasons for prioritizing in-person instruction.

First, our students want to be back! The vast majority (over 90%) want to be on campus.

Second, an in-person education, with students living and learning together, is the best education.  It’s why Hope has been committed to being a residential liberal arts college for more than 160 years.  That said, remote learning isn’t a poor substitute when done the Hope way.  We’ve been offering courses online since 1999 and infuse them with the same individual attention and character that we provide in person.

Third, an in-person experience is more equitable. Some students have good learning environments in their homes, while others do not. 

Finally, while this may be counterintuitive, we believe bringing students on campus is actually safer and more responsible. Since a large percentage will be living in the region regardless of the teaching modality, it’s better to have them on campus participating in our testing and monitoring programs.

As an institution of higher learning, this is an unparalleled opportunity for teaching moments! It is an opportunity for innovation, as we explore new modalities of teaching and think deeply about the future of learning. It’s also an opportunity for growth. As we are shaken out of old ways of thinking, we can look at the world with new eyes. 

Our students and faculty are happy to be back on campus, even though many things will be different this semester.  For example, fall sports have been postponed to the spring and chapel will be streamed remotely.   There are disappointments, but the spirit of our school is not to dwell on despair.  Rather we are a place that faces challenges with hope.

There is no better place to cultivate and spread hope through the world than a college for which true, biblical hope is a foundational identity.

We are going to learn a lot this semester.  And we’ll make some memories together too.

Spera in Deo!

Matthew A. Scogin

2020 State of the College Address

Below is the full text of President Matthew A. Scogin’s 2020 State of the College Address, as prepared.

HOPE vs. THE WORLD

Introduction

Today marks the beginning of our 159th academic year. On the occasion of a new school year, we typically take time to reflect on the state of our college and outline aspirations for the coming twelve months. 

This year, we can’t fully assess the state of our college without reflecting on the state of our world.

Evidenced by the fact that I am here in an empty Dimnent Chapel and you sitting at your computer screen watching yet another Zoom call, we are forced to confront the reality that the so-called “bubble” of Hope College is profoundly impacted by the world out there.

In recognizing this, we find ourselves wondering one thing:  Is it too much to ask for some precedented times?

Throughout our history, Hope’s leaders have, with God’s guidance, led this college through many unprecedented periods — the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, 40 presidential election cycles, and even the potential visit by VP Mike Pence last year (for a while, I thought that would be my biggest challenge during my first year).

We’ve seen a lot.  And opened in the midst of many challenging periods.  Yet we’ve never begun an academic year quite like this.

You have worked all summer long to prepare for opening in the midst of these unusual circumstances.  You made plans – and adjusted those plans as circumstances changed. Many of you sacrificed vacation time. And all of us – in the season we usually feel most refreshed – are feeling exhausted.

That’s understandable.  The work is not easy.  There many unknowns.  And the world out there is exasperating.  

And somehow, we are expected to prepare our students for lives of leadership and service in the world – when the world as we knew it just six months ago has been completely turned upside down.

  • We’re in the middle of a pandemic that will make COVID-19 the third leading cause of death in the US this year (behind cancer and heart disease)
  • Our country was rocked at the murder of several Black Americans earlier this summer, bringing into sharp focus the very real issues of racial injustice that continue to haunt us

These headlines have exposed even deeper issues, which have been percolating for a long time.  Like:

  • Widening economic inequality
  • Uneven access to good healthcare
  • A plague of discrimination and bigotry that continues to allow the color of one’s skin to influence the kind of experience one has in this country.  

All of these issues are actually just symptoms of a much deeper and more fundamental issue — we live in a broken world. 

That brokenness is more apparent today than it has been in a long time.

When looking at the state of the world and trying to understand what it means for us, our question has to be more than just “how do we survive?” As we’ve discussed in the past, that is not the right question for us.

Rather the question we should consider is this: How should we engage with this broken world, knowing that we are actually citizens of another kingdom? 

As our world is being disrupted, it is being reshaped.  And we have the opportunity to provide influence.  

We don’t have to accept the way the world is – or the way it used to be. When things are shaken up, they fall back into place differently.  We have an enormous opportunity to shape what the world could look like as we come out of this.

How we do that – and what exactly we want the world to look like – are important questions.  They are also scholarly questions.  Academic questions.  Question that requires maturity, understanding and true spiritual wisdom. 

In Luke 16, Jesus is talking to his disciples and he says “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light.”

That line is a criticism of the people of the light.  It’s a criticism of us Christians.  What he’s saying is: Christians, you are getting outsmarted.  Outsmarted by the world.  Christians, you are too often characterized by simple thinking and naiveté.  

That shouldn’t be the case here.  As an organization made up of Christian intellectuals, we are built for this moment.  

As we talked about a few weeks ago, this moment gives us opportunities – opportunities for teaching moments, opportunities for growth, and opportunities for innovation. 

Last summer, I quoted Isaiah 43 and told you that I felt God setting us up to do a “new thing” here at Hope.  I feel that all the more acutely now.  

And the opportunity for “new things” fall squarely within the three areas of focus I have been highlighting since last year: the future of learning, the future of work, and the future business model of higher education.

Opportunities at Hope

Higher education has been disrupted like no other time in history.  And we have the opportunity to be shrewd people of the light in how we navigate this.

Rather than being takers of circumstances, let’s be makers of circumstances.

To help make this specific, let me give you four observations regarding trends that I see developing in higher education as a result of what we’re going through now and how we can use these as opportunities.

1) The growth of online learning will accelerate

As this happens, I expect we’ll see new entrants into the field of higher education.  In particular, watch for large technology companies to enter our space. Google is already investing millions in educational services and expertise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some institutions partner with these companies — imagine “Ohio State University powered by Google.” It would allow students to take online courses, powered by a name-brand tech company, at an institution with a nationally-ranked football team.

What does this mean for us?  Well, some have heralded this as the end of traditional liberal arts education. But I don’t believe that is going to be the case. As supporters of the residential liberal arts experience, we certainly do not want that to be the case.  And guess what.  We can do something about it.

Let’s be shrewd people of the light.   

The world of higher education is heading very quickly in one particular direction right now – online learning. And the easy thing to do, would be to follow.

Because the traditional model has never been more complicated or more expensive than it is right now.  

But if we believe in the traditional model – which we do – let’s do something counter-cultural.  While the world goes in one direction.  Let’s go the other way and double down on residential liberal arts learning.  

Our students have demonstrated they want to be here.  Consider the fact that 92% of our enrolled students will be learning on campus this semester putting up with – let’s just be honest – some fairly unpleasant things. 

So if our students want it and we believe in it, let’s double down on it. And instead of following what others are doing, let’s look for opportunities in the midst of this time to innovate and improve our on-campus, residential experience.  And, by the way, part of how we do this — as Gerald Griffin likes to say – might be “infusing” our traditional curriculum with some new technological and digital expertise.

2) The growth of online learning will mean more uniformity in curriculum

An online education is highly scalable. Remote classes and online universities have the ability to accommodate thousands of students at one lecture, in one class.

Here’s what this means: more students, learning the same thing, from the same people and places.

As education becomes more high tech it inherently becomes less high-touch, less personally transformative.  

Online programs are also oriented toward ushering students in and out, quickly and practically, so they can get a job. Neglecting thoughtful reflection, the life of mind.

This again presents an opportunity for us. 

As the world moves toward curriculum that is more standardized, more uniform, we could go the other direction and make our curriculum more customized, more high touch, more individualized to the passions and curiosities of each student.

One could even imagine the possibility – at some point in the future – when Hope, rather than offering a traditional selection of majors, offers an abundance of high quality curricular resources and building blocks that empower students to shape a highly personalized educational journey based on their fields of interest and discerned calling.

3) The average age of U.S. college students will increase

This was already happening.  But now, with students around the country taking gap years, the average age of a college student will rise further, as more people go to school later in life.

Further, a Brookings study published in June showed that, as a result of economic uncertainty, fewer babies will be born next year than previously expected. At one point, people thought the stay-at-home orders might result in more babies.  But I guess it turns out that, with lots of uncertainty, people just aren’t in the mood.  (and let’s be honest, when times are stressful, it’s a lot easier to turn on the tv than try to turn on your partner!)

Brookings estimated 10% fewer babies born in 2021 than previously predicted. The same phenomenon happened during the Great Recession. 

These demographic shifts will impact higher education for the long-term. With less students overall, and less in the 18-22-year-old age range, we have the chance to think creatively about reaching a demographic beyond the traditional college-age student. 

We could develop opportunities to foster life-long learning, such as offering unique educational tracks for people at all stages of life and career. This could be especially compelling as the future of work evolves and we enter what is very likely to be a sustained economic downturn.  

Summary

To summarize what we’ve said so far:

  • The world says residential liberal arts education is dying. We (HOPE) say let’s lean into our model and make it better.
  • The world says it’s cheaper/easier to scale up, one-size fits all. We (HOPE) say let’s improve our technological capabilities, but see how we can use that to customize, empowering each student to find a bespoke education that uniquely fits them. 
  • The world says learning is for young people to get jobs. We (HOPE) say learning is a life-long shaping of the soul that doesn’t stop when you reach a certain age.

These are just possibilities, and they’re just SOME of the possibilities! Join with me in finding more and dreaming bigger.

This is living as people of HOPE!

Let me mention one more observation, which I believe presents a very big opportunity for us to apply a unique Christian approach to this disruption…

4) Sustained financial challenges in higher education will result in more inequality

As we all know, the financial challenges for higher education stemming from the pandemic will be significant and have long lasting and wide-ranging implications. Here’s the headline: in aggregate, revenue will decline significantly and costs will increase. 

On a small scale, this is true at Hope College. We anticipate revenue impact of less than 5% this year, primarily due to students who are deferring and summer programs we had to cancel. (Of course, if we have to pivot back to fully remote learning, the revenue impact would be much greater.) Further, our additional expenditures related to COVID will cost $3-4 million year.

On a national level, however, the numbers look much more dire. (which highlights the fact that we’re in a uniquely good place) According to one recent article from Inside Higher Ed, higher education revenue in aggregate could be impacted by as much as 30% this year. At the same time, operational costs across the board will increase by billions of dollars. 

Here’s what this means: less revenue and higher spending will inevitably result in less scholarship money for students. 

With less scholarship money available, the real costs of education (specifically residential learning) will go up – yet again. This year and likely for several years to come. 

The impact of that? Greater inequality.

The kind of education we provide at Hope will become less accessible to those who aren’t otherwise wealthy or privileged.

Those who can’t afford an expensive education will default to weaker programs (probably online programs). Graduates of schools like ours will have a leg up in a challenged employment environment, and the result will be even greater inequity and a deeper wealth divide.

We have a chance to do something about that, starting here at Hope College. Which is why I believe it is paramount that we work diligently to bring down the cost of a Hope education. 

We’ve already started this work.  By offering a record increase in new scholarship money last year, we significantly reduced the net cost of a Hope education.  The average net tuition cost for a first year student last fall was $19,000.  The average net tuition for a first year student this fall is $17,000. That’s a decrease in cost of around 10% in just one year.

It’s a good start, but we have a long way to go.  Because – while priceless – a Hope education is still unreachably expensive for too many families.  

We’ll change this by being smart about how we spend money, and aggressive in raising new scholarship dollars in the endowment. I am more committed to this than ever before.

Here again, we can uniquely distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world.  Everybody else is retreating financially, reducing scholarships, and deciding to hold off on capital campaigns.

What are we doing?  We’re preparing to launch a billion dollar, decade-long fundraising campaign toward a new pay-it-forward tuition model that no one has ever tried before.  

Who would do this now?  Who would set such an ambitious goal – to raise this ridiculous amount of money in this kind of economic environment?  

Only a group of people who believe God is trying to do a “new thing”.  

And maybe this “new thing” is an aggressive pursuit of equality and justice at a time when it has never mattered more.  

The world says it’s impossible to make higher education affordable. This perpetuates injustice. 

One of the most tangible ways an institution of higher learning can respond to injustice in the world is to make what we do more affordable and accessible.  

It’s a matter of equality. It’s a matter of justice.

And it’s central to the heart of God.  The Bible says in Amos 5 that God doesn’t even want to hear our worship – he can’t stand our praise of him – unless we are a people who let justice roll down like a river.

That’s what I want for Hope…  I want us to be a place that lets justice roll out of us like a river, like a never-failing stream!

This means fighting against injustice and inequality where ever we see it.

Racial Justice

One of the major places we see injustice and inequality today is racial injustice.  

Racial injustice takes many forms. One way racism perpetuates itself is through structures and institutions.

As an institution, one way we can respond in a powerful way is by doing what we can to close the education and wealth gaps.

It’s a way for us to let justice roll out of us like a river.

But there’s more we can do.

First, as Christians, we have to be particularly enthusiastic about racial diversity.  

I think it is nearly impossible to overstate how much God cares about this.  

God likes racial diversity.  All throughout the Bible we see that God has preferences.  There are things he likes and things he doesn’t like.  Diversity is one of the things God likes. 

That means God prefers diverse communities – mixed race communities.  He likes mixed race churches, mixed race schools, I would even go so far as to say that he likes mixed race families.

In Numbers 12, Moses (a Jewish man) marries a black woman. God not only approves of it, but he punishes the people who don’t like it.

God likes diversity.  And that means Christians must be especially enthusiastic supporters of diversity.

But we also have to recognize that the Christian church doesn’t have a lot of credibility on this issue.  

Tragically, Christians (specifically white Christians) have historically been slow to speak and work against racial injustice.

In 1963, MLK was arrested on Good Friday and while he was in the Birmingham jail, eight white pastors criticized him for being unwise and untimely in his methods, calling on him to be more patient in his efforts to promote civil rights.

It was in response to this criticism from white pastors that he wrote that famous letter from jail…  “In the midst of blatant injustices…, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”

I don’t want anyone to look back on us and say that we were standing on the sidelines in the midst of today’s “mighty struggle” against racial and economic injustice.  

We have work to do. Because today, the Christian church is one of the most segregated institutions in America.   95% of whites attend predominately white churches, and 95% of blacks attend black churches. Churches have not only NOT helped bridge the racial divide in this country, but every single week churches are reinforcing the divide.  That’s not OK.  

Christians  – because of how near this is to God’s heart – should be leading the way, working the hardest to create multi ethnic, mufti race communities.   

But, I have hope.  And I believe we have a shot to pull this off here at Hope College.

The world says Christians have lost credibility in fighting for racial justice.  Let’s show them that with Christ at the center of Hope College, we can do this.  

I believe we have a renewed commitment to enhance racial diversity in our student and employee populations – and to truly make Hope a culture of belonging.

Also, because we are a residential college our students have the opportunity to model what it can look like for a beautiful mosaic of people to live together, eat together, learn together, worship together and play together.  

That’s something very few adult communities have been able to model.  We can do it here.  

How? 

It seems to me the starting point should be with ourselves – looking at our own lives first.  I’ve been on my own personal journey recently.  I know that I have my own blind spots and I know that in many ways I am part of the problem.  So I’ve been asking myself “what can I do personally to get better?  And how can I use my influence to advocate for racial justice?” 

We can all ask ourselves the same question.  And I think we can be of great help to each other through example, discussion and encouragement – through belonging, understanding and grace.

As an individual, I’m committed to leaning into my own discomfort, and as we say in the Belonging/Grace/Understanding document, to get past my “usual social patterns”.

The disruption taking place gives us the opportunity to change our status quo, both as individuals and as an institution.  

From an institutional standpoint, as you know, we formed a steering committee over the summer.  We wanted to respond to today’s struggle for racial justice with the same kind of urgency and structure that we deployed in response to the COVID pandemic. 

Vanessa is leading this committee, we have a great group of people serving and they are taking a gospel-centered approach to their work.  I’ve asked them to give us some bold recommendations as to how we can promote racial justice on campus, and they will report back within 6-8 months. 

The possibility of making significant improvements at Hope in this regard excites me.  

The challenge and the opportunity is to live into the full depth and impact of a mature understanding of the Christian ethic.  

When you boil it all down – the teachings of Jesus – come down to a radical devotion to God and a radical love for each other.  That’s what I want our community to embody.

Conclusion

Speaking of boiling things down…  For me this season has been grounding…  It has given me a new appreciation for the simple things – like handshakes – that we once took for granted.

It has put things in perspective, and tragically over the last few months it seems we’ve had too many reminders of how brief life can be. 

Currently our campus community is grieving the loss of our own Dianna Machiela, who passed away last week.  Dianna will be remembered not just as our payroll manager whose quiet, dedication kept us paid on time. She will be more importantly remembered as someone who served our institution and her colleagues with kindness and care.

That’s ultimately what matters.  And when someday they are writing about the history this season, that’s what I want them to say about us.

As we enter our 159th year, I’ve reflected on my own history at Hope.

For me, it marks 23 years since I first experienced fall on this campus.  I came here for the first time in the fall of 1997 for a visit.  I was with my dad. 

Never in my wildest imaginations would I have predicted this job being in my future.  In fact, at that time I thought I would study at the University of Michigan. 

I only remember two things from that visit.  I remember attending one of Joel Toppen’s political science classes – and I remember stepping foot into this building for the first time. 

God stirred something in me that day.  Something that continues to stir in me today.  It’s a fundamental belief in this institution and what we stand for – HOPE.

I never properly thanked my dad for dragging me here that day, but that visit changed my life.  Next month will mark 7 years since he passed away.

My dad was a PhD chemist.  He worked at UpJohn in Portage, which ultimately became Pfizer.  He too was a quiet, dedicated employee.  He showed virtually no career ambition.  He was content to have the same job for decades.  (All the ambition I have came from my mom)  

He was an introvert.  But he was an introvert who loved people.  I’m not sure he really liked people. But he sure LOVED people.

At his funeral visitation, several people showed up who we had never met.  We had no idea my dad even knew these people.  One of them was a gas station attendant at the Shell gas station in Portage.  He introduced himself to my siblings and me.  Said he had seen the obituary in the paper and recognized my dad’s picture.

“How did you know him?” we asked

“Oh your dad used to come to Shell regularly.  Every time he came, he would ask about me.  He remembered my name.  He remembered my kids’ names. And he would ask about them too.”

At the end of the day, that’s what matters.  An institution like ours is nothing really but a collection of people. 

My prayer is that we would be a collection of people characterized by true love for one another. 

This year has, in different ways, been hard for all of us.  You know what the hardest part of this year has been for me?  Missing my parents.  They’ve been gone for several years, but I’ve missed them this year more than ever.  I can’t tell you how many times I would have liked to pick up the phone and call them and say “this is crazy!’

My mom had ambition.  My dad had love.  And that has made me strive – on my best days – to be a person characterized by ambitious love for others. 

And just as my parents influenced me, I’m striving to pay-it-forward and influence as many people as I can. 

Sociologists remind us that even the most introverted people will influence 10,000 others in an average lifetime.  Because hundreds of new students come onto our campus this time every year, we have the opportunity to influence countless more than the average person.  

We have the opportunity to love others, and to let justice roll out of us like a river.  

Here’s the thing: it’s contagious.  Because when you see it in others – like in Dianna or my dad – it changes you. And our students, seeing it in us, will be transformed.

I know these are trying times.  And I know achieving what we aspire to be as an institution will not happen in a smooth easy way.  It will be hard.  But James says:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The world is broken.  We can be a people who change the world by exuding joy, love, belonging, understanding, grace, and HOPE at every possible corner. 

Let’s do this.  Let’s finish the work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Thank you for who are and what you’ve done.  I’ve never worked with a group of people I respect more than all of you.

Sentinel Op-Ed: Committed to Safe In-Person Start

This piece was published in the Holland Sentinel. View the original post HERE.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions around the country have wrestled with how best to provide students with the outstanding education that they deserve and assure the safest possible environment. We here at Hope care not only for the campus community but our cherished hometown of Holland. We’re writing to you, neighbor to neighbor, to share some of our thinking and preparation for in-person instruction, including an innovative approach to COVID-19 testing developed by our very own faculty experts, as we approach the start of classes on Aug. 17.

The college has created a comprehensive, three-component testing plan specifically tailored to the Hope community and informed by the expertise of public health officials and our own faculty and staff.

Our goal is to start the academic year with zero cases of COVID-19 on campus. Every student and employee coming to campus is being tested for COVID-19 through a pre-arrival kit sent to their home. They complete it with online supervision, send it to a laboratory and then quarantine at home for two weeks if they test positive.

Second, we will test 1 percent of the students every weekday, in a strategy developed by Dr. Ben Kopek, an associate professor of biology with expertise in virology. The sample size reflects a commitment to conducting successful surveillance while saving enough tests for clinical care of individuals.

Third, we will conduct wastewater testing to determine if the virus is present in specific residential zones on campus. This innovative project is being led by faculty members Dr. Aaron Best, Dr. Brent Krueger and Dr. Mike Pikaart, who have long led water-quality research. If the levels of the virus rise in a particular zone, we will conduct follow-up testing of residents. This will allow us to stay on top of, and mitigate the risk of, a potential outbreak.

While we have confidence in our testing plan, we realize that we’ll likely have cases on our campus this semester. We are prepared to respond, with testing available as soon as any student recognizes symptoms of COVID-19, and with quarantine space available for those who test positive.

We’re also taking many of the sorts of steps that you might expect. For example, we’re promoting physical distancing by spacing desks in all classrooms six feet apart. On campus, we’re all to wear masks, complete a daily screening form, and regularly sanitize our hands and spaces.

But as we look to the future with hope, our prayer is that we see not just the challenges but also the opportunities.

We’re undoubtedly signing up for a harder semester than if we continued the fully remote instruction that we implemented in March, but we see four compelling reasons for prioritizing in-person instruction.

First, our students want to be back! The vast majority (we believe over 90 percent) want to be on campus.

Second, an in-person education, with students living and learning together, is the best education. It’s why Hope has been committed to being a residential liberal arts college for more than 160 years. That said, remote learning isn’t a poor substitute when done the Hope way. We’ve been offering courses online since 1999 and infuse them with the same individual attention and character that we provide in person.

Third, an in-person experience is more equitable. Some students have good learning environments in their homes, while others do not.

Finally, while this may be counterintuitive, bringing students on campus is actually safer and more responsible. Since a large percentage will be living in the region regardless of the teaching modality, it’s better to have them on campus participating in our testing and monitoring.

These are trying times. But as we look to the future with hope, our prayer is that we see not just the challenges but also the opportunities. As an institution of higher education, this is an unparalleled opportunity for teaching moments! It is an opportunity for innovation, as we explore new modalities of teaching and think deeply about the future of learning. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for growth. As we are shaken out of old ways of thinking, we can look at the world with new eyes, insisting that destruction and disappointment is not all there is. With this mindset, there is no better place to cultivate and spread hope through the world than a college for which true, biblical hope is a foundational identity.

— Matthew A. Scogin, President of Hope College, and Jennifer Fellinger, Chair of the college’s COVID-19 Steering Committee and VP of Public Affairs and Marketing.

Share your #GratitudeAndHope!

Dear Friends,

November is here — and the Thanksgiving season is upon us. We are so thankful for the way Hope College has transformed our lives, and we are especially thankful for all you do to support Hope!

This month, we invite you to share your gratitude. Tell us about the person, program or experience at Hope College for which you are most thankful.

You can participate in one of two ways (or both):

  • Post your gratitude publicly, along with the hashtag #GratitudeAndHope, on Instagram or Twitter. Remember that if your account is set to “private,” we won’t be able to see the post, even if you use the hashtag.

Your message can be short and sweet — just be sure to describe what made that person, program or experience so special and how they made an impact.

We can’t wait to hear how you have been transformed by Hope! During the month of November, we will share some of our favorite submissions via Instagram and Twitter.

Thank you for all you do to represent Hope College throughout the world.

Spera in Deo,
Matt ’02 and Sarah ’02 Scogin
President and First Lady, Hope College