The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

January 21, 2019

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Grove City College
Lee Edwards - 02/15/12

Grove City College, a once obscure private academy in the hills of western Pennsylvania, has become one of the best small colleges in America, noted for providing a superior education within a Christian environment at a reasonable cost—about $15,000 in 2005–6 for tuition, room, board, books, and a notebook computer and printer for every student. Many other colleges started out with the same objectives but have compromised on quality, atmosphere, or price, and sometimes on all three. Founded in 1876, Grove City has remained faithful to its original mission, in large measure because of its leadership.

For most of the school’s first eighty years, Isaac Ketler, followed by his son Weir, served as college president, while Joseph N. Pew and then his son J. Howard Pew chaired the board of trustees. The continuing collaboration of the Ketlers and Pews over eight decades is unprecedented in American higher education and was based on a common commitment to political and economic freedom within a Christian context. President Weir Ketler asserted that it was the college’s aim to send out into the world young men and women who would not be afraid “to make a stand for the right in the moral and civic issues of life.”

It was in the post–World War II years that Grove City College diverged sharply from public and other private institutions regarding income and operations. State-supported schools received as much as three-fourths of their funding from nonstudent sources—most of it from the government. Private schools depended on endowments or gifts for about 50 percent of their income. But Grove City persisted in operating on what it received each year in student tuition and fees, determined to remain financially independent of government.

The college’s defining moment—earning Grove City national attention and conservative approbation—came in 1976 when President Charles S. MacKenzie declined to sign a letter of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Title IX forbade discrimination against women, but that was not why Grove City refused to comply. The college had been coeducational from its founding and had never discriminated against women. But compliance with Title IX would have inevitably led to compliance with all future amendments and interpretations of the title. At issue was not a seemingly benign government regulation, but the fundamental question: Who runs a private educational institution like Grove City College—the federal government or the institution’s trustees and officers?

There ensued an eight-year legal battle that cost the college over $500,000 in legal fees and expenses. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal scholarship grants given to Grove City students were direct aid and sufficient to trigger the provisions of Title IX. The college quickly acted to preserve its independence by creating a private student grant plan. Twelve years later, it withdrew from all federal student loan programs and started its own campus loan program. Today, along with Hillsdale College, it is known among conservatives as an institution at which principled conservatism thrives.

Further Reading
  • Edwards, Lee. Freedom’s College: The History of Grove City College. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000.
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