When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis turned the board of a Florida state college from “a bubble of progressive ideas” to something approaching everyday America, the left went mad, accusing DeSantis of “destroying” the college. But rearranging a board of directors is rarely enough to turn a college around, let alone make a lasting change, as Richard Vedder recently noted. Since William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale,” conservatives have lamented that “the left owns the universities,” and thus begin our troubles, particularly in the institutions that shape culture.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a conservative, Christian liberal arts college in the nation’s financial and cultural capital, New York City? One that produced graduates who go on to top law schools, work for premiere financial institutions, and create award-winning culture?
There is. But there might not be for much longer.
The King’s College has operated in the heart of New York City since 1999. In New York, it can influence culture in ways many schools cannot.
As the youngest ever executive secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and as a policy adviser who worked extensively with the Departments of State and Education, we can say King’s prepared us well to engage with the world, whether with Goldman Sachs or Ivy League alumni. But New York City brings unique challenges that now leave King’s on the brink of financial failure.
New York’s crippling Covid-19 shutdowns, which far outpaced the rest of the country, left King’s and other nonprofits in the worst possible situation: stuck with high rent, unable to attract newcomers, and cheated out of the cultural opportunities that make New York City great. Simultaneously, college enrollment cratered nationwide, particularly among liberal arts colleges, with a national 9.4 percent enrollment drop from fall 2020 to fall 2022.
King’s also finds itself a microcosm of the broader Christian-conservative realignment. Many elite evangelicals are retreating from conservatism and Republican politics, even as non-elite evangelicals are becoming more politically engaged. Caught in the center of this debate and faced with financial pressures, King’s turned to a for-profit education partner two years ago in a deal that failed to generate returns for either party and is now unraveling.
Meanwhile, the underlying problems have not changed: Politically engaged Christians have not focused on the long-term effort required to maintain institutions of higher learning, while educationally minded Christians have found themselves politically homeless. These groups must keep working together if there is to be any future in public and intellectual life for conservative and educated people of faith.
King’s — in the middle of the diverse-in-every-direction New York City — is the ideal place to keep that conversation going. Indeed, King’s mirrors the early church, which expanded in cities distinct enough to warrant their own Pauline epistles: Ephesus, Corinth, Rome … Manhattan.
New York provides what no heartland conservative college can mimic. King’s students gain the street-smarts education and top-notch internships that prepare them to make it anywhere. And King’s offers what other New York colleges used to provide but now don’t: a solid core curriculum focused on the Western canon.
When we look at an economy shaken by bank failures here and abroad, we wish more King’s graduates could work at big banks. When we consider our time in the academy and working with senior government officials, we wish more students were prepared to think logically and critically with an eye toward public service. When we look for movies to watch, we wish more conservatives were equipped to produce stories and films.
A Rallying Cry
Alumni, parents, and students have put together a rallying cry: Save King’s. Things are starting to turn — King’s is charting a new financial path forward, but time is running out. Indeed, there is a lot on the line. Between a New York state charter, leased building space, and student housing, the costs to restart King’s if it closes may be insurmountable. The costs to keep King’s running and help it turn around are relatively modest.
Critics will point out that it would be much cheaper to operate King’s if only we’d leave New York. But America has plenty of liberal arts colleges — even several conservative and Christian ones — in places other than New York. Those schools are good, but they cannot offer the holistic education we received at King’s.
King’s prepared us not only academically but in areas like risk-taking and entrepreneurship, professionalism, and engaging with people who looked and thought differently. Beginning adulthood in Manhattan is formative. A conservative movement that graduated more students from the toughest city in the world would be more resilient and perhaps reach a broader demographic.
King’s taught us difficult things are worth doing. Running a conservative Christian college in Manhattan is difficult, but it’s worth doing. Our country needs more young people to learn that lesson — and Christians need to keep working together to make it happen.