Ranking & Measuring the LCMS Concordias

Update – please see ‘Short-Term Trends in the Concordia University System‘.

We have entered the college shopping phase for our oldest daughter, and have run the rule on several dozen options to find the best fit for her and us. As part of that exercise, I extracted a subset of all the Lutheran tertiary institutions, further refined to the Concordia University System. Herewith my findings based on publicly available data:

  • The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Concordia’s offer better value-for-money than ELCA schools when measured by total cost divided by rank (based on a custom ranking score based on the status of a college and its U.S. News national or regional ranking).
  • ELCA schools are more elite academically, but also much more expensive.
  • The LCMS schools have remarkably similar total tuition and boarding expenses.
  • Unfortunately, there was no publicly available data on the percentage of students who are from LCMS households. Anecdotal reports suggest that Seward has the highest percentage, whilst Portland and Selma have the lowest.
  • Seward is the highest ranked LCMS school.
  • St. Paul offers the best value relative to its ranking, but only marginally so against the runner up, Seward.
  • Texas and Portland offer the least value at almost double the price paid for the best value schools.
  • Seward attracts the brightest students.
  • Seward has the best performance in keeping students and graduating them.
  • Selma has a shocking retention and graduation rate that is several standard deviations outside the mean.
  • Seward, Mequon, and Irvine are in close competition by many measures. There is a message there for the required rationalization of CUS, especially as the LCMS prepares to confront challenges to the religious liberty of its universities.
  • Given the importance of spouse-matching during the university years, LCMS men are spoiled for choice, but our women have a distressingly small pool to choose from
    • The Seward and Ann Arbor campuses have the most balanced gender ratio which also matches the national gender ratio (51% female / 49% male).
    • The least balanced is Selma (35%, 65%)
    • The most likely campus to find a wife is Portland with 77% women and total enrollment exceeding 7,000. Pity the young ladies there, especially if they are Confessional LCMS members, who already face daunting marriage odds in their home churches.
    • The most likely campus to find a husband is Texas with 40% men and total enrollment of 2,500. Seward is close behind.

Chart2 Chart3 Chart4


Ranking & Measuring the LCMS Concordias — 40 Comments

  1. Picking the right university is a challenge, especially when one is looking for a child. I would disregard academic reputation. I’ve been accepted into the most “elite” universities, as well as good and average schools. The rankings system is rigged and pointless. One highly ranked school into which I was accepted also had a horrible reputation of faculty ineptitude. You have to find the school that has the kind of campus, class size, and philosophy that best fit the child. Who cares about rankings? One can receive an absolutely terrific education at a “mediocre” school. Cliche warning, but it’s very true, you get out of college what you put in. Interesting article.

  2. Your statistical work is impressive!

    I’m a graduating senior at Concordia University-Wisconsin, and I’d be happy to talk with you if you want a student’s-eye view on things like worship life, academic strengths and weaknesses, student life, or school ethos.

    Blessings on your decision!

  3. @Tim (the Author)

    Great stats and visuals Tim! We need more of this in the Synod instead of incomprehensible prose and dense tables.

    I would suggest the following:
    1. Define terms, e.g. what is the ranking? Is it higher is better in this case, I assume?)
    2. Happiness always should live in the upper right quadrant. Design the graphs so the best performers are there.
    3. The first graph is hard to comprehend. I would suggest it would be much better to simply graph Rank vs. Total Cost (Tuition + R&B). If rank is a Lower-is-better metric, invert the axis.
    @Jamie – I find your comment dismissive. Yes, there are some games in the stat systems for rankings for colleges that make it hard to separate schools by value in a precise way, but they are useful and can certainly separate clusters of schools, e.g. 1-10, 11-25, 26-50, 51-100, >100. I may not be able to really say that the #1 school is really better than #5. But, to say that a school ranked 101 is on par with a school ranked 1 is probably ludicrous.

  4. This is excellent! However one aspect which needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that most – probably all – ELCA schools are Lutheran in name only. My own alma mater – Gettysburg – hasn’t received significant financial support from the ELCA since prior to my enrollment (and that’s been a long time!). Consequently one should not expect a Lutheran presence on campus nor a curriculum which addresses Lutheranism. IMO, these facts exclude them as possibilities.

  5. @J. Dean #3

    Nebraska. It’s a little north of Lincoln, off the interstate, small town. Campus on edge of town, so one side you can look out windows directly into a cornfield. I went to St. Paul, but have interacted with students from a number of other Concordias. My personal impression is Seward might be the most Lutheran of the bunch. Sometimes I wonder if I should have went there for my DCE studies. Maybe I would have made it through.

  6. Tim Wood: “We have entered the college shopping phase for our oldest daughter, and have run the rule on several dozen options to find the best fit for her and us.”

    Not mentioned in the search of colleges for your daughter is whether she has expressed interest/talent in any specific major or vocational area, e.g., science, engineering, math, economics, history, languages, art, music, teaching, nursing, etc.

    Different colleges, such as engineering, military, or music schools, may excel in certain academic or vocational areas more than in other areas. Such schools might be given extra consideration if they match the interests/talents of your daughter.

    Some specific vocations of interest, e.g., physician, lawyer, research scientist/engineer, college professor, would involve a graduate school following college. In such a case, a college with a good track record of getting its qualified students into a good graduate school would be of interest.

  7. @mahoffmansts #3 Thank you. Yes, we have no illusions about the ELCA colleges, which demonstrate (from their brochures mailed to us) that they are little different from the hyper-liberal zeitgeist pervading most campuses today.

  8. @Carl Vehse #8 Dad wants her to study engineering, but her real talents and interests lie in the liberal arts. Hillsdale College is our first choice with the most open-ended, high quality undergraduate options and strong grad school feeder programs. CUNE is a strong second.

    Of course, she would love to go to Lake Forest or Whitman, which have outstanding English programs. However, you have to indulge mindless political correctness in the process. Why pay for that when the culture offers it for free…

  9. We have a very strong Lutheran Student Fellowship at our confessional Lutheran congregation one block from campus at South Dakota State, rated top-5 national best value in a recent study by PayPal for low cost of tuition vis-a-vis academic standards and job placement.

    Having had two kids in a “Lutheran” day school in another state with faculty most of whom were degreed from Seward, I have to admit, that particular Concordia produces some very fine Methodist teachers.

  10. Nice article. Looks like you put a lot of time into it. Thanks.

    One quibble, a pet peeve, since this is of an academic character. From the LCMS Official Stylebook, p. 25:

    “Letter and Grammar Guidelines


    1. The first time the name of our church body or a related agency is used, it should be spelled out in full. The acronym should be typed immediately after the name in parenthesis…


    The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)…

    After first reference, it is acceptable to use the acronym alone. NOTE: Acronyms have no
    periods, and “LCMS” has no dash or hyphen.”


    Note that some would quibble with that rule, asserting that LCMS is an initialism, not an acronym (e.g., NATO), since it is pronounced one letter at a time. Others assert that if the abbreviation has 3 letters (e.g., FBI or IBM) it’s an initialism, more than 3 and it’s an acronym.

    There, got that off my chest… 😉

  11. @Ex Cathedra #4 Thanks for the suggestions, Eric. Chart 1 has been updated to make it clear that the better value / rank is top right quadrant. I have also updated the table so that the color scale in each column always reflects green as best, red as worst.

  12. Some feedback on Concordia Portland: “Concordia Portland: Total enrollment is 7182. Of that number, 6000 are graduate students, 1182 undergraduate, and of the 7182, 5285 are online students and 1897 are “on campus” students (meaning they’re physically present at some point, but don’t necessarily live there).”

    I have adjusted the enrollment data to reflect 1182 undergrads rather than the 7182 reported.

  13. One of the slight of hand tricks about the Concordia University System
    is using the graduate students in their totals. It would be more helpful
    if we had just the number of full-time students on campus. The Freshmen
    through Seniors enrollment gives a more true picture of the actual campus

  14. @mahoffmansts #5

    My used-to-be Lutheran school shed my most valuable Profs (for their Lutheranism) in the 60’s.
    The choir director, whose tenure into the 90’s exceeded 50 years, was said to be the “last Lutheran left on the faculty”.

    But what I heard of CUS Texas was not a whole lot better.

  15. First, reevaluate whether to send your children to college at all. No matter where they go, they’ll likely get a strong dose of liberalism. Besides, I would only recommend college to those who want to pursue a career that requires a degree, Engineering, a hard science, accounting or a medical field like Pharmacy. Obviously, if a young man wants to be a pastor, a BS will also be necessary. Otherwise you’re potentially burdening a young person with a huge amount of debt, and poor job prospects when they graduate.

    Technical training might be a far wiser choice or going to a local college at least for two years. Many young people don’t really know what they want to be, so let them live at home, work and go to school and get some work experience. Young people also tend to change majors during college.

    Finally, I’ve heard many negative stories from former students of the CUS schools. Students might actually be better off to go to a public university with a good campus ministry program. My son had that experience and it worked out very well for him. Boomer Sooner.

  16. @Rev. Loren Zell #22

    …because only hard sciences grads get the kinds of jobs that make it easy to pay back student loans, right?

    There are many highly-compensated liberal arts majors (outside of salesmen) who do quite well with “soft” bachelor degrees, making plenty more than the average engineer, etc. I know, ‘cuz I is one. 🙂

    For instance, someone who wants to be an attorney, a B.A. in Psychology is often recommended before going to law school if they’re really interested in excelling in their career.

    Pr. Prentice (I think) & I are both making the case that one can get a good education at a secular school with awesome job opportunities and, with a good confessional congregation nearby, hold one’s own against liberalism. Some secular schools, like the one I cited, have very reasonable tuition, etc. (way less than a Concordia) that can be paid off in no time after a few years of work, assuming your degree isn’t in feminist studies or social work.

  17. In the Midwest, for a “liberal arts” foundation that is not liberal in the pejorative sense, and at which a confessional Lutheran would be reasonably at home, even though its roots are Reformed, by reputation you can’t beat Hillsdale. If the ConU’s, my first choice would be where the most solid Admiral President holds forth: RF, legally known as CUC.

  18. (Addendum: last part didn’t save.)

    I don’t mean to be argumentative, especially because of your apt point about how so many kids spend money on a degree with no earthly clue what they might do with it. It’s just that I see so many fellow History, English, or (especially) Modern Languages grads do at least as well, if not better than the B.S. folks, that I cringe when a blanket statement is made to dissuade kids from pursuing the liberal arts.

  19. @Ex Cathedra #4

    You’re welcome to be put your faith in school ranking. I was merely stating my own experience, having attended schools elite through average. My experience is that rankings did a poor job predicting school quality.

  20. @Ex Cathedra #4

    Not to mention, you don’t need to worry about any of the Concordias breaking the top 100 internationally. Essentially, their rankings suck, but that has nothing to do with the quality of education one can earn at a Concordia. College rankings are bullshit. One very highly ranked school I was accepted to also had a horrible reputation for terrible faculty. Your precious rankings apparently didn’t find quality of instruction an important variable.

  21. For an inexpensive college education, many parents are encouraging their
    children to attend a community junior college for the first two years
    and then transfer their credits to a state four year university. Of
    course academic scholarships can also lower the cost of a college education.

  22. @Pastor Dave Likeness #29

    “less expensive”, Pastor Likeness…. : )

    If your state has a system, as many do, of the former “teachers’ colleges” being networked with the state university, it may be less expensive to attend one of those for two years. [This assumes that education is more important than making a name in clubs and organizations; that usually takes all four years in the same place.]

  23. @Pastor Dave Likeness #29: “many parents are encouraging their children to attend a community junior college for the first two years and then transfer their credits to a state four year university.”

    In Texas there is a Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), where annually, 190 Texas 10th-graders, who qualify, are accepted to complete two years of college courses while they are high school juniors and seniors. Parents only pay room and board. Other states have similar institutions. Graduating TAMS students can usually get their bachelor’s degree in two more years at any State-run college since it accepts such course credit transfers.

    A private college or university, especially in another state, probably won’t accept such credit transfers, requiring a TAMS graduate to spend four years at that college to get a bachelor’s degree. However, recognizing general college courses were completed, some universities allow the TAMS graduate to start with more advanced courses. Thus, in the case of my daughter, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree and had completed all course work for her Masters in electrical engineering with only the research project to finish in six months.

  24. Dear Tim,

    Thanks for the excellent analysis. If you haven’t done so, you should also look at the evaluations published by the ACTA (see http://whatwilltheylearn.com ). Also three years ago I did a similar type of analysis as you have done, and published it here: http://lutheranclarion.org/images/NewsletterJul2013.pdf (pages 7-9). I ended up with similar results as yours. One change in the triennium is the election of Dr. Dan Gard to Concordia-Chicago, which should improve the ratings at Chicago in several dimensions.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  25. Thank you! Our daughter is very happy at Seward. Insert “feeling blessed” smiley here!

  26. @Martin R. Noland #33 Thank you, Pr. Noland, the additional info is excellent. It would be good to see the LCMS conduct a “theological audit” to score the CUs on their adherence to the Synod’s doctrinal positions. It has been disappointing to discover that open communion is the standard at chapel services with only token efforts made to maintain fellowship.

  27. Unless the Concordia’s really buy into classical Lutheran education (as I understand Concordia, River Forest is beginning to do), my best advice is to send your education students to either Hillsdale College in Michigan or Patrick Henry College in Virginia. Sadly, a long time ago the education faculties of our LCMS colleges bought into the progressive education based on John Dewey’s Columbia Teachers College and it has been downhill ever since.

  28. @Tim Wood #16

    Can you share where you are getting this data from? Is this a publicly available report? I’m interested to read this, too. Thank you.

  29. @Jamie #39

    Hi Jamie

    The data comes from a combination of:
    1. The individual college Web sites.
    2. Various public databases, e.g. https://colleges.niche.com/rankings/ , http://www.forbes.com/top-colleges/list/ , http://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/best-colleges
    3. US News College Compass (subscription service)

    The subsequent detailed data that I received for the follow up story came from an anonymous source: //steadfastlutherans.org/2016/06/short-term-trends-in-the-concordia-university-system/

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