My alma mater, The King’s College in New York City, is in danger of closing.
This small Christian liberal arts college, from which I graduated in 2013, has long veered on the edge of a financial cliff. Two years ago, it outsourced admissions and marketing to a Canadian for-profit firm, Primacorp Ventures, that promised to develop online courses meant to attract thousands of students. But the venture flopped. Besides the Primacorp debacle, for years the college endured a series of leadership turnovers that left alumni rubbernecking. Now, the odds of survival are slim. The college needs $2.1 million immediately to finish the semester, and $9 million to operate for the 2023–2024 school year.
King's would be the sixth college to close this year, by my count. Five closed last year. Credit analysts say higher education as a whole is “deteriorating.” Does King’s matter?
Some might say no—it's good that higher ed is shrinking. For decades, the “everyone should go to college” mantra coupled with bloated federal student aid pushed enrollment to artificially high levels, reducing many a liberal arts university to a mere credentialing institution.
And yet, The King’s College is worth saving, because it offers a different kind of education. King’s has kept hold of its core purpose: to educate Christians in the best that has been thought and said, and to equip them to hold their own in the institutions that shape our culture. Though it is tiny, the college’s demise would be a major loss to Christian higher education and to New York City.
For all its financial woes, King’s was a remarkable college. I chose to attend King’s in part because it was an evangelical college that took philosophy seriously—a combination I struggled to find at other schools. I then fell in love with King’s for its willingness to set high standards. My classmates and I signed an honor code pledging not to lie, cheat, or steal, and to hold one another accountable. Every spring we got three days off from class for “Interregnum,” a time set aside for competitions in writing, speaking, debating, and art. The entire student body converged, cheering wildly while classmates recited Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech, delivered lectures on the meaning of “duty,” or debated the merits of the flat tax.
King’s introduced me to great books, many of which I had previously encountered only in textbook-style summary. I had read Plato and Aristotle, but never before with students who thought they were interesting. I joined the college debate society (where I met my husband) and learned the value of understanding and arguing for positions with which I disagreed.
The faculty is a gem mine: teachers who love to teach, not just research, and who relish the core curriculum, not merely their own sub-specialties. Many of them have been with King’s for decades, giving the institution a bedrock character that remained unchanging during periods of administrative tumult.
There is something audacious about a Christian college in the middle of New York City. That boldness attracted a student body full of ambition and determination. Graduates frequently punch far above their weight. My own classmates have been top officials in the Justice Department, the U.S. Treasury, Morgan Stanley, and major philanthropic organizations. They have written and produced plays, published books, written film scripts, reported for national newspapers, pastored churches, and played a major role in the revival of classical K-12 education. They have raised families committed to the gospel and its significance for civic life—little platoons of countercultural witness.
New York City is inhospitable to King’s, to be sure. It is frightfully expensive, torn apart by identity politics, and overwhelmingly secular. Yet King’s wouldn’t be King’s without New York.
I read Aristotle’s Politics and watched it played out in the courtyard of my prewar Brooklyn walk-up. Where else but New York could you wrestle so completely with the command to “love thy neighbor”? While at King's, I had to learn to negotiate a lease, stay safe on the subway, and cook my own meals—in other words, to face real life while still treasuring and making time for the liberal arts, which is the major challenge of all post-college adulthood.
The alumni of The King’s College are rallying. We say simply, “Save King’s.” The odds are long. But the opportunity is there.
Faculty, understandably, are keeping an eye out for other opportunities, but many have committed to stay while hope remains. Students are applying to transfer schools, but most say this is their “Plan B.” They want to stay at King’s if King’s lasts.
“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice,” C. S. Lewis wrote in “Learning in War-Time,” an essay I first encountered at King’s. “If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun.” King’s, too, has always stood on the edge of a precipice. Yet it did not postpone its work.
May its work go on.
Rachelle Peterson is a 2013 graduate of The King’s College.
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