Q & A with Dr. Carlos Campo of Regent University

Editor’s note: Dr. Carlos Campo is the President-elect of Regent University; he will assume this role effective August 2010. Dr. Campo is an Advisory Board member for RENEWANATION. He, and the university, have been strong supporters of RENEWANATION. Regent, located in Virginia Beach, Va., is one of the nation’s academic centers for Christian thought and action, with a multitude of on-campus and online programs available worldwide. Founded in 1978, its goal is to provide rigorous academics within a faith-based context. It provides graduate and undergraduate degrees available on campus and online.

Dr. Campo has served as the Chief Academic Officer since coming to Regent University in 2008. Prior to his position at Regent, he was an English professor in the Nevada System of Higher Education. Dr. Campo has also served as dean of arts and letters, and as vice president of academic affairs at the College of Southern Nevada. In 2007, he was recognized as Outstanding Educator and Champion of Education by both local and national organizations. He holds a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in dramatic literature from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dr. Campo and his wife, Karen, reside in Chesapeake and have three adult children.

Dr. Campo recently shared some of his thoughts on Christian education and what high school students and their parents should be aware of as they prepare for their college careers.

Q: In general, what should a student look for in a school, whatever university they may choose to attend?

A: It’s really all about fit. One of the things I caution students and their parents is “you really have to go before the Lord.” We believe higher education is a calling. We do believe that God calls us into higher education and to specific places. It’s really important for students to get a mix of what is available to them, from a large university to a smaller one. Don’t just do the tours that are canned from the schools. Go into the library, go to the school student center without announcing your presence and sit down and talk to students. Talk to parents if they’re available, talk to folks who are sitting in the library. Talk to them about what campus life is like there and those types of things. You have to hear those details. This is a huge investment — both spiritually, financially and emotionally. You have to do your homework.

Q: What should high school seniors be aware of as they prepare to make that transition from high school to college?

A: One of the things I would tell those seniors is “don’t take that senior year off.” You probably hear that a lot — you hear the term “senioritis.” Very often students have done a lot of their core work already. They’ve been accepted into schools; they’ve finished their SATs. It’s easy to take a breather. What we find is that students who do that really struggle in that first semester, and sometimes through that first year. When you look at the dropout rate in college, it tracks somewhere between 75 percent and 85 percent in that first year. Once a student gets past that first year … they get the flow and it’s generally fine. That first semester can be tough so you want to stay plugged in.

If there’s a local community college that offers a dual enrollment, or a dual credit program, that’s one of the things that (high school) students should look at. And not just that. They can often contact the school of their choice and say, “I’m a high school senior, and I would like to consider taking an early college class.” That’s going to save you time and money … that’s certainly another thing to consider.

Q: What kind of advice would you give a high school senior or a college freshman as they consider choosing a major for college?

A: All of the studies show that a student normally changes their major three to four times during their college experience. Students don’t really have that (decision) locked in when they come. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. But remember, when you change your major very often it means you have to take some extra courses. Do your homework on the front end. And in your general electives, choose a variety of courses from different disciplines. What generally shifts a student is, they’ll take a class, and they’ll say, “Wow, I love this teacher, I love this approach, this is a field I never thought about.” If they do that as part of a general elective, they’re not going to lose any credit and they’ll be able to make that shift more seamlessly.

Q: What about parents — what should they do to help their students prepare for their transition to college?

A: One of the things they need to do is understand both spiritually and emotionally what their child is going through. One of things that is very difficult for Christian parents, because we bond so closely with our children, is understanding that this is a transition in (their child’s walk with) the Lord. Parents can help their child scope out some churches in some of these areas as well. Don’t just go in for a college visit. Your child is entering an entire environment. You’ll want to go to a local church that fits your faith tradition. That’s at least as important as any other single component.

I do caution parents to understand that when this transition (for their child) happens, they need to be able to let go of (some of) those (parental) connections and ties so that the student can establish his own identity in college. Don’t be so shocked if your child comes home after the first semester at Christmas, and when they go to leave, they say, “I’m going back home.” Parents very often feel hurt by that sort of thing. But that’s the right sort of development.

I often tell students and their parents to really cherish this time (prior to the student going to college). It’s a great time to celebrate what students have done. When your child goes away to school, there is a shift, there is a change that occurs. So these are really important days to solidify their relationship.

Q: What are you looking for in a student that comes to Regent University?

A: (That) they are focused on academics and they are focused spiritually in terms of their commitment to the Lord. Regent doesn’t have sports teams, other than intramural sports. You’re not going to find Greek societies. We’re very focused on academics and we’re focused on our spiritual commitment. If students can say those two things about themselves … Regent could be a great fit for them. It (also) doesn’t hurt that they’re 20 minutes from the beach (at Regent).

Q: What do you hope a student will develop in their four years at Regent, by the time they graduate?

A: Lots of college students come at an age, when they’re kind of thinking, “I know it all.” I hate to say it, but it’s true. Eighteen-year-olds have lots of opinions, but very few of them are grounded in knowledge. Our philosophy at Regent is, “you don’t say ‘I agree,’ or ‘I disagree,’ before you say ‘I understand.’” That’s one of the things we really want students to develop — a deep understanding of who they are in the Lord. More than anything else, we feel strongly that if you give a student the entire world, and yet they’ve lost their soul, they’ve lost everything. We know that knowledge is important, but knowledge is not our primary task here, certainly not some sort of esoteric textbook knowledge. Knowledge of God and who they are in God is the most important thing. But we know God has called individuals. And we don’t have a cookie cutter philosophy. We believe that God has called you as an individual to Regent University to develop as a Christian leader.

Leadership is probably the foremost perspective that we have for our students. If you don’t sense that you’re a leader, you’re not Regent material. We believe that every student that walks on our campus is a leader. Now leaders can express themselves in a variety of ways and be successful in a variety of ways. Our mission statement begins with these five words: “Our mission is to serve.” From our perspective, it’s servant leadership, building servant leaders that will transform the world. That’s really what it’s all about. To get to that place a student really has to do some soul searching. They’re going to be stretched. They’re going to be out in this community. They’re going to be giving their lives away, because their lives are not their own. It’s developing that perspective and moving into mature adulthood as a Christian to say, “I know that God’s call is on my life as a leader to change my world in that way.” We want students to find their way to that place by the time they graduate.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes a freshman attending college can make?

A: Freshmen very often come in and they have a preconception of what they believe the college lifestyle is going to be. A lot of students see college as a break from family, a break from tradition — a place to let your hair down, that sort of thing. Who would have believed that when national rankings are done for colleges now, one of the criteria that they look at is, “party school.” I’ll tell young freshmen coming in that, “you should not have the expectation that when you’re going to college that you’ve gotten there and now it’s time to let your hair down, and sort of define yourself that way.” That’s not going to lead to success.

One of the big problems students have is that they don’t make the academic transition effectively. You have to get plugged in right away. Try to get your syllabus early. Get a copy of your textbook. It sounds nerdy, but it isn’t. Read through it and get comfortable with some of your textbooks. You want to stay ahead of the game.

Another thing that sometimes happens is that a student (coming in) will isolate themselves. A student has to be able to share life with other students. You’re not going to get along with every student. But you don’t want to isolate yourself.

Q: What would you say to parents as they are considering the financial aspect of paying for their child’s college education?

A: There’s a lot more out there (in financial help) than you probably know about. More and more, parents are actually paying for a service, where an outside consultant will come in and help find scholarship money for their student. It can be a good investment, especially if both parents are working and they’re really busy. It’s not a bad way to go. At the very least, you want to visit with a financial college counselor. A lot of these services are free in your community and they can help you. A lot of times your high school counselor can track with some of the scholarships that are available. When you start looking into this, it’s amazing. This has literally become an industry. There are scholarships for left-handed students. There is more out there than you are aware of.

Second, consider a community college in your area for the first two years. I know this is a tough choice for parents to make. Remember that all colleges and universities are looking for transfer students after two years. If a student can go to their local community college, and save 20 percent, 30 percent or 40 percent on their education and then transfer, that’s certainly another option some students might want to consider.

Finally, discuss with your local church if they consider (giving) scholarships as well. Most faith-based schools have what is called a “pastor’s matching scholarship.” Many schools will match that dollar-for-dollar. Scripture says, “you don’t have because you don’t ask.” That’s one of the things I tell parents about scholarships as well. All that being said, it’s clear that it’s a big investment. Make sure that you do your homework. Make sure that you understand in your own mind and in your child’s mind the return that you expect on that investment. And then do all that you can to ensure that your school is offering exactly that.

Q: What are the strengths of Regent University?

A: There’s no question, the school of communication and the arts, those facilities are outstanding. But I think there is another piece. One of our strengths is the graduate and professional environment that is set up here for students. An undergraduate student here has access not just to faculty, but to resources, a graduate level institution that is really world class. That is very rare. There is a strength that is very rich here at Regent that very few schools can offer, because they simply wouldn’t have the resources to do it. With our connection to CBN and the graduate school, they have that.

Beyond those, from a programmatic perspective, it’s a small undergraduate population, so what a student is going to find is a very high-touch residential program. (So you are) able to go into that environment, where literally you know everybody at the school. And you’re also interacting with faculty in ways that you wouldn’t elsewhere. They come and share life and dreams with the professors.

We’re also very intentional about the spiritual component. Here’s what I tell my faculty and my staff: “No student will come to Regent University and not be challenged spiritually and academically.” We don’t leave that to chance. We feel that’s a real strength for Regent. Our writing emphasis is very strong as well. We think that’s a very important component, for students to be strong communicators. They’re going to be driven to read and write extensively at Regent. Those building blocks will serve them well whether they go on to our law school, or to graduate education anywhere.

Q: What’s Regent’s growth perspective for the undergraduate program?

A: In 2012 we are scheduled to have another dorm unit open, that will open up another 800 beds. That will take our population to somewhere around 1,000. In the short term, that’s a really good number for us. What you’re going to see, really, is an honors college kind of environment for students. We’ve already established that. We are demanding that our students have a fairly high GPA when they come in. We’re looking at a 3.0 requirement for on-campus or online. We’re going to ratchet that up for our on-campus (students) and we’re going to see that figure move up to 3.5 and even 3.75 before too long.

Q: What is it about RENEWANATION that prompted Regent to get behind our effort?

A: One of the things that we saw right away with RENEWANATION was that their philosophy and worldview was the same as ours. Beyond that, when I first heard the idea, it almost seemed so far-fetched that I knew God had put a passion, a dream and a vision in someone’s heart. This much I know, those are the kind of people I want to be around. When God has someone fired up with a vision like that, those are the kinds of folks who change the world. It was a vision that aligned so well with who we are, that we wanted to be involved. In effect that’s really what we ask our own scholarship sponsors and donors to do.

Our endowment is primarily (to provide scholarships for) students. We believe that Christian education in this country, shouldn’t be something that a student should have to pay for. We believe that it is so fundamental to sustaining the America that we know and love, that we need to do all we can to get the right students, the right education and the right price. As much as we can do to eliminate the cost, that’s what we want to do. (Like) RENEWANATION, we want to be that alternative to a secular institution that says to students “you have an option … we’re every bit as good, we’re every bit as rigorous; we’re going to prepare you in every academic way, but we’re not going to make you sacrifice who you are spiritually.” We’ve been saying that at Regent ever since we opened our doors, that’s why we connected.

Q: What else would you like folks to know about Regent University?

A: Regent University really is in your own back yard because of our online program. You can attend, no matter what your schedule is. Our youngest student is 16 or 17 and we actually have a sophomore in our (online) undergraduate program who is 89 years old. We have folks who are in Iraq now, who are serving our nation and going to school at Regent. You can plug in with believers. You are not just logging into a computer, you’re logging into a Christian community. You’re connecting with them in ways that are really powerful.

We don’t negotiate who we are spiritually at Regent. That’s non-negotiable. We do things with quality and excellence. We believe that what we reflect in our physical space is what we’re reflecting about our God. Our God doesn’t do things shabbily. He believes in excellence.

By Tom Wilmoth