Catholic college gives up nearly $1 million in federal grants to maintain Christian identity

Wyoming Catholic College said the Obama administration's 'increasingly burdensome regulatory requirements are clearly troubling for faith-based institutions.'
Tue Apr 14, 2015 - 6:41 pm EST
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LANDER, WY, April 14, 2015 ( – A new, growing Catholic college has decided to reject nearly $1 million in federal aid so that it can remain free of the Obama administration’s mandates, which would lead to government interference with its Catholic mission and identity.

Wyoming Catholic College’s board voted unanimously to forgo federal student loan and grant programs earlier this semester, despite the fact two-thirds of college students rely upon them to attend college. Acceptance would clearly help the new school, which is still operating from a temporary campus and would like to offer more competitive salaries to its faculty.

The college has been evaluating the pros and cons of taking federal dollars for months. While there are obvious financial benefits, WCC leadership’s position is that it’s not worth compromising its mission, and the Obama administration's “increasingly burdensome regulatory requirements are clearly troubling for faith-based institutions.”

“It allows us to practice our Catholic faith without qualifying it,” said Kevin Roberts, president of Wyoming Catholic College (WCC), told the New York Times. “It’s clear that this administration does not care about Catholic teaching.”

The current U.S. political climate driving religious entities to legal action to safeguard their First Amendment rights figured prominently into WCC’s decision.

“By abstaining from federal funding programs,” Roberts said, “we will safeguard our mission from unwarranted federal involvement – an involvement increasingly at odds with our Catholic beliefs, the content of our curriculum, and our institutional practices.”

WCC first accepted students in 2007, with enrollment currently around 120 students. The school operates from a two-location interim campus in Lander, Wyoming (population 7,500).

Late in 2014, WCC reached a milestone in receiving accreditation, which would allow the institution to receive money from federal aid programs – which would comprise roughly 20 percent of its $5 million budget – but the board still turned down the money.

Around 80 percent of WCC students receive some type of financial aid toward their annual tuition of $28,000. According to the school’s estimates, it will miss out on $250,000 in Pell grants and $650,000 in student loans each year.

Andrew Emrich, chairman of the WCC board, said that the school respected that other faith-based schools have come to different conclusions about accepting taxpayer funds, but given the situation, WCC had to refuse the money – and he pulled no punches in faulting the Obama administration for putting religious colleges in this position.

“What is different in our case is timing,” Emrich said. “At the very point we were grappling with this question, pivotal legal decisions, executive orders, and administrative interpretations were all pointing to some near-term (and perhaps long-term) challenges for institutions of faith.”

“As sound a decision as this is,” Emrich continued, “we lament the current political circumstances that preclude Wyoming Catholic College from participating in such programs.”

“My concern was about the overreach of this administration,” said board member Richard St. Pierre, who referenced the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case. “We may find ourselves in a similar position if you take federal money and don’t comply with an executive order.”

“We really didn’t want the federal government meddling in our lives here,” concurred board member David Kellogg. “The federal government hands you money and then threatens to withdraw that money if you don’t do what they want.”

WCC will continue to offer merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, and student loans, which are privately funded through contributions to the school’s St. Thomas More Fund.

School leaders had talked with students and parents about the prospect of turning down federal dollars prior to the announcement.

WCC students must now receive aid from private loans, which bear higher interest rates and are not as easy to defer until schooling is complete. Despite the sacrifices, the answer school officials got from students and parents about rejecting federal funds was an unqualified “yes.”

“We prefer to stay on the side of siding with our beliefs,” WCC senior Matthew Gaddis said.

Roberts said the students and families of WCC know what they want from a Catholic college.

The specifics of Catholic identity are included in the student handbook. Students have a 10:30 curfew during the week and a dress code that allows dress jeans in class while prohibiting men from appearing shirtless on campus. Couples can hold hands and hug, but they are advised to limit public displays of affection – and are expected to refrain from premarital sex.

Openly homosexual students, those who are transgender, or those advocating the homosexual cause “would be contravening Church teaching,” Roberts said.

WCC joins a few other private schools in refusing federal funds, including Hillsdale College in Michigan, New St. Andrews College in Idaho, and Christendom College in Virginia.

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The two-dozen or so religious schools that have sued the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act's HHS mandate, which forces them to provide contraception and abortifacients in violation of the religious beliefs, are in that position because they accept federal dollars.

Leaders at Catholic Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina are looking at the price tag of pulling out of federal financial aid programs, expressing concern over being forced in the future to provide benefits to homosexual “spouses” of employees or unisex bathrooms for transgender students.

President William Thierfelder told the Times that the college would need a $375 million endowment to replace the loans and grants its 1,550 students would lose, and the school’s current endowment is at $10 million.

“We can’t afford to do it right now, but we want to do it,” Thierfelder said. “We couldn’t support or condone homosexual lifestyle, transgender, this kind of thing.”

“We’re not trying to tell anyone how to live,” Thierfelder continued, but he added that Catholic teaching on sexual morality and gender are vital to the identity of Belmont Abbey College.

“This is why we exist,” he said. “This is why we’re here.”

  catholic college, religious freedom, wyoming catholic college

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