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Is College the Only Option for Christian Students after Graduation?  

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By Andrea Kroeze
Training & Curriculum Coordinator, Touch the World

Today’s high school students are under more pressure than ever before to make choices about their future earlier and earlier. For many, there is no question about what comes after graduation. A four-year college has become the default option. However, this may not be the best trajectory for many students. With skyrocketing college costs leaving Gen Z graduates shouldering incredible debt, the return on investment may not be as strong as it once was. Aside from the rising costs, students who experienced Covid-education interruption may not be prepared for the academic rigors of higher education immediately after graduation.  

As a Christian parent, an even greater concern than tuition and intellectual readiness are the alarming statistics of young people walking away from their faith during college. Kara Powell and Brad Griffin of Fuller Youth Institute and authors of Faith Beyond Youth Group, point to the necessity for teenagers to have the time to fill character gaps and be mentored in trusting relationships in order for their faith to have deep meaning. A Christian discipleship-based Gap Year program can meet the growing challenges in preparing adolescents for emerging adulthood— while also saving money, providing additional academic readiness, and forming students spiritually.

Touch the World launched a Gap Year program in 2023 after working towards accreditation to offer college credit. Through a partnership with Anchor Christian University, students in this program can optionally earn up to 30 college credits across the span of two semesters at a cost of only $250 per credit— a 56% savings in the average net cost of most Christian universities. As a youth ministry, Touch the World has actively studied the unique qualities of Gen Z and has designed the program with their specific needs in mind. The “Discipleship & Missions Year” is an opportunity for intentional one-on-one mentoring with a maximum of only eight students each year. This allows for rich community building and significant guidance to prepare these young adults for their next stage of life.

Current 17-year-old student Bethany Kunz describes the program as “a combination of living in a true Christian community, embracing adventures, and growing in spiritual and practical disciplines.” Students learn in an experiential environment rather than a classroom setting, putting their lessons into action as they serve weekly with local ministries but also through short-term missions and global immersion. Right now, Touch the World’s Gap Year students are in Athens, Greece, serving for an entire month alongside a local church. Through this global immersion, students are embracing a new culture and gaining a wider worldview as to how Christians in other parts of the world understand and worship God. The Gap Year program is full of opportunities like this that help students not only to learn about themselves and grow in their relationship with God, but also to engage with other cultures and deepen their understanding of God’s mission in the world.

Touch the World’s Gap Year program directors, Randy and Deb Sheagley, live with the students at The Mission Center campus in Kunkletown, PA. The Sheagleys are the perfect couple to lead these young adults in spiritual formation. Randy, now on full-time staff with Touch the World, previously served as a Christian school administrator and a counselor for troubled teens. Deb, a missionary kid who grew up in Japan, also has a degree in Christian counseling and is a certified Spiritual Director. They are uniquely positioned to lovingly guide students during the “in-between” stage of adolescence into adulthood, helping students uncover their gifts and passions and discern where God is leading them next in their life.  

Touch the World is currently accepting applications for enrollment in next year’s program, beginning in Fall 2024. If you know of a soon-to-be high school graduate who wants to explore what it means to find identity, belonging, and purpose in Jesus Christ and have the opportunity to practice living out their faith so that it becomes real and meaningful for life, contact Randy Sheagley at randys@touchtheworld.org or find out more and how to apply at https://touchtheworld.org/gap-year-program.