Have Jehovah's Witnesses Ever Prohibited Higher Education? [Opposers Dismythed]

Note: All italics, bolding and underlining in this article are to highlight key points relevant to the subject under discussion.

Likely, you have heard the lie parroted by many opposers that the Jehovah’s Witness organization prohibits the pursuit of a college education. Is this true? The simple truth is that Witnesses young and old alike have to make their own decisions as regard to what and how much education they need.

However, as a Christian organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses provide guidelines designed to help individuals ‘count the cost’ of pursuing a college education while working to live up to their Christian dedication. (Luke 14:28) So what do our publications say about pursuing a college education? Do we prohibit it?

“Prohibit” Obtaining a College Education? Where?

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education. And to be honest, they do not encourage it either. What Jehovah’s Witnesses have done over the decades is issue balanced warnings against pursuing a college education for the wrong reasons, while urging members to think about why they are pursuing a college education using questions like: “What are my goals in life?”, or “am I looking to support my service to God, or get ahead in this world?”. These are very logical questions for any Christian to ask themselves.

As far back as the 1950s, we have published information that leaves it up to the individual. Consider this statement from the May 15th, 1956 Watchtower p. 313, par. 14:

He must decide whether his ambitions are toward the popular trend of materialism or not—whether he desires to get ahead in the world, to attain a high position and honor and esteem of men which a college education subsequently leads to. In making his decision he must bear in mind the question: How will this affect my position in the New World society and my relationship toward Jehovah God?”

In that same article, we read:

“Whether a person should or should not seek such higher education is dependent on the individual and what he desires to gain from life, present and future.

Do those sound like prohibitions to you? Absolutely not! Are we the only ones that have similar views? Consider statements in the New York Times by Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC:

. . . We also need to prepare many students for jobs that don’t require college degrees. . . . A four-year college degree is not the panacea that many people think it is. . . . There is plenty of snobbery afoot regarding college educations. Some esteemed academics — conservative and liberal — wrongly equate college graduates with ‘smart people’ and ‘skilled workers.’ Many conservative and liberal educational policy experts demean destinations other than college. We need a nation that has and values all sorts of work and skills, which means providing decent pay and benefits for many types of jobs.”

Our opposers ignore the fact that not all educated people view college as the “panacea” (cure-all). After all, not many things stoke the flames of prejudice and fear more than convincing others that Jehovah’s Witnesses want to control you and your children by removing education as an option. This is why we urge all readers to look into our beliefs for themselves to get the facts. (Acts 17:10, 11)

Let us compare the statements from the 1950's with our most recent teachings on this issue with the January 2015 JW Broadcast, the one claimed by our opposers to be “anti-education”. In that video, (starting at 4:11) Anthony Morris of the Governing Body made statements reaffirming the position we have maintained since the 1950s:

“Ultimately, it is the decision of the parents as to the amount of the secular education they feel is necessary for a child to later care for a family of his own. . . . So parents and children, you need to have a goal, and you need to have a plan. If you are missing either one, Satan will provide it for you. Young people, ask yourself: Why am I considering additional education? Is it because I am pursuing a specific skill or trade to support my service to Jehovah…?

What the preceding statements demonstrate is that, far from prohibiting college education, we are teaching people to think for themselves, and reason on the matter, before making a decision, and not to blindly follow the trends of the world around us. (Proverbs 1:4; Romans 2:12)

In contrast, among Jehovah’s Witnesses are doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators and so on; fields of expertise that would require a college education. Logically then, such individuals would not qualify to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if we prohibited college education.

Do we “Discourage” Getting a College Education?

Some mischaracterize the warnings and guidelines we provide as “frowning on” or “discouraging” college education. College education is not itself discouraged; however, what we caution on is the emphasis that is usually placed on gaining material and social success, which runs counter to the advice of Jesus and John. (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 John 2:15, 16)

Our organization exists to build faith in God and to help people get on the road that leads to everlasting life, hence, it is our responsibility to provide warnings on what could lead one away from that road. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)

So what are some of the claims made by opposers that serve as “evidence” that we discourage college education itself? Consider several articles that our opposers like to quote.

“Rather than being content with ‘sustenance and covering,’ those who devote themselves to getting a ‘higher education’ usually want to be able to enjoy ‘the rest of the things’ that money can buy.” —Watchtower, February 1, 1967, p. 76

This article is cited as evidence that we teach a causative relationship between college and materialism. What this article connects is materialism with discontent with sustenance and covering, not college education. It is saying that when people become discontented with sustenance and covering, they usually seek college so they can buy more things. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not teach that all who attend college do so for materialistic reasons, as you will see later.

Let us move on:

“University and college campuses are notorious for bad behavior—drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, cheating, hazing, and the list goes on.” —Watchtower, October 1, 2005, p. 28

According to some of our opposers, this statement is cited as proof that we ‘demonize’ college. But they fail to understand what it says. It says “college campuses” (indicating dorm room life) are notorious for those things – it does not say “college” itself. This means other options are available such as attending a college near home that enables students to live off-campus, or securing housing that allows living away from campus, or even online courses. The point our organization is making is to avoid environments that would jeopardize our spiritual welfare.


“How sad that some have fallen away from the faith as a result of succumbing to the demands on their time and energy or of getting entangled in unscriptural conduct at college!” —Watchtower, October 1, 2005, p. 29

Our opposers claim that by this quote, Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying university is the cause of some leaving the faith, and thus should be avoided to keep ones faith intact. While it is true that some have left the faith after attending college, this article is linking the “demands” and “unscriptural conduct” as the reason some have “fallen away from the faith”, not simply attending college.

Jehovah’s Witnesses issue similar warnings about the workforce. Demanding jobs and engaging in unscriptural conduct on the job can lead to a loss of faith, so does that mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses are telling their members not to go to work? Hardly. But our opposers don’t want you thinking that far.


“Are we encouraging young ones, who are often steered by schoolteachers and others to pursue the world’s higher education, to set spiritual goals instead and pursue the highest education—divine education?” —Our Kingdom Ministry October, 2011, p. 3

It is claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are hypocritical with this statement because we “take advantage” of those who have college educations to advance our preaching work. However, a ‘hypocrite’ is one who professes a belief, but acts in a way that disagrees with that belief. What would make us hypocritical is if the Governing Body were doing the opposite of what they are saying. The simple fact that college educated Jehovah’s Witnesses exist does not make us hypocrites. We do not prohibit college education, so how can we be hypocritical by using those who have college educations?

What we have learned thus far is that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education or discourage it. Rather, we simply offer guidelines that assist Jehovah’s Witnesses in having the right motivations if they chose to attend a university, and we educate them on the obvious spiritual dangers that can accompany college life. Secondly, we encourage less time-consuming alternatives that will be discussed next.

What We Encourage

While Jehovah’s Witnesses neither encourage nor discourage college education, they have acknowledged the benefit of secular education overall and endorse options that would not put a Christian in spiritual harm. Note the November 1, 1992 Watchtower, p. 17:

Their schooling will teach them not only many subjects but also the learning process. True Christians do not stop learning and studying when they leave school. What they get out of their studying, however, will greatly depend on their knowing how to study. Both secular and congregation schooling can help them to develop their thinking abilities.

Page 18 of that same article states:

“Some have taken training courses that have opened up job opportunities enabling them to engage in or resume full-time service. One sister in the Philippines was the family breadwinner, but she wanted to pioneer. The branch reports: ‘She has been able to do this because she has received additional education to qualify as a certified public accountant.’ The same branch report stated: ‘We have quite a number who are studying and at the same time have been able to arrange their schedules to pioneer. Generally they become better publishers as they are more studious, provided they do not become overly ambitious in worldly pursuits.’”

Consider the March 8th, 1998 Awake!, p. 21:

“Some Christians have found that pursuing additional education, in the form of either academic or vocational studies, has assisted them in caring for their family’s material needs. Caring for one’s family is proper, for ‘providing for one’s household’ is a sacred duty. (1 Timothy 5:8) Gaining the skills needed to do this is a matter of practical wisdom.”

Added to this, our organization encourages other alternatives that will not consume too much of the time that could be devoted to being a disciple of Christ. (Matthew 16:24)

One such recent example is noted in the January 2015 JW Broadcast mentioned in the outset. Philip Brumley, legal counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated that instead of becoming a doctor, one could become a nurse, and instead of becoming a lawyer, one could become a paralegal. His point was to encourage his listeners to select a career which would allow them to take care of themselves and support their Kingdom activity.

The April, 1999 Our Kingdom Ministry, p. 8 said this:

“What have you cultivated as your prime concern during your youth? Are you mainly interested in seeking financial advantage, or do you really want to use your life to advance Kingdom interests? A university degree does not guarantee success in the job market. As an alternative, many have acquired marketable job skills by means of apprenticeship programs, some vocational or technical school education, or short-term college courses that require a minimum of time and involvement”.

I would like to just reiterate the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a spiritual organization with the goal of helping people become followers of Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20) This helps add context to the reason why we encourage the type of education that would assist in advancing this purpose, instead of education that would detract from that purpose. Speaking of following Jesus, what were his views on higher education?

What Was Important to Jesus?

Jesus was the wisest man to ever walk the earth. However, it was well-known and openly acknowledged that he did not attend the schools of higher learning. (John 7:15) When Jesus chose his 12 Apostles, these men were evidently chosen because of their faith, not because of their level of education. (Acts 4:13) Jesus revealed that Jehovah favored humble people, not those who relied on their own intellectual capabilities. (Matthew 11:25) The Apostle Paul, who studied under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamiliel who is probably the most famous Rabbinic scholar in history, all but abandoned those teachings to follow Jesus. (Philippians 3:7,8) His reasoning had become completely foreign to the Pharisaic schools.

What is the point? That we endeavor to follow in Jesus' footsteps. Higher education was not itself condemned by Jehovah or Jesus, rather, it was not the priority for them. Likewise, Jehovah's Witnesses do not condemn getting a college education, but we prioritize "seeking first the Kingdom" just like Jesus recommended. (Matthew 6:33)

Are Parents Disciplined for Their Child's Choice?

When a post like this proves our opposers wrong, they start moving back the goal posts. In this instance, one tried claiming that an elder's qualifications can be brought into question if he "allows" his child to get higher education. Again, this is patently false. There is not one piece of literature so much as implying this.

The only way an elder's qualifications could be brought into question in regard to a child's choice of higher education is if the elder encourages the child to pursue higher education without consideration for the child's spiritual health. An adult child of the elder is considered beyond the elder's influence. Elders cannot be held responsible for the choices of their adult children if they did not encourage those children.

Elders are only asked to step down with children under the age of adulthood if those children are disobedient or the elder gives counsel contrary to the publications in line with 1 Timothy 3:2-4. Whether or not the child chooses higher education has nothing to do with that. As we have seen, the publications do not prohibit higher education.

Now the January 2015 JW Broadcasting quote from the first header indicates that it is the parent's choice to determine the amount of higher education their child receives. This has certain caveats. First, this assumes the parent to be the source of the funding. If the parent controls the funding, then the parent controls how much higher education the child can undertake. If the parent allows unlimited amounts of schooling, allowing the child to put aside spiritual pursuits, then the parent may be seen as encouraging such spiritual abandonment.

We do not discipline parents for this in any way, but it may bring their qualifications for priveleges into question. The child's attendance of higher education, in itself, is not, and never has been, grounds for such restrictions.

In review, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not prohibit college education, nor do we generally encourage it. We offer guidelines that discourage attending college for the wrong reasons, and warn of the spiritual harm that could result. However, each Witness ultimately has to make their own decision and cannot blame others for their choice. We respect and acknowledge the place education has in our society, and encourage worthy alternatives to four or more years of college education for those who are considering it.


Dismythed said…
Good job, Robert. This article shows how badly our opposers have twisted the truth and how simple it is to see through their claims just by reading the information yourself. While there have been some who blame the organization for their choice to forego college, they simply demonstrate their personal failures to think for themselves, which in turn shows the thinking ability of the faithful in the organization who have not been so affected.

Every coin has a second side. Just because we don't focus on the other side of the coin in an article doesn't mean it's not there. Our opposers claim to read between the lines, yet they can never seem to show us what's really there until people like us show it to them.

If a person is given the negative aspects of something, such as college, they can be considered forewarned so that they'll take precautions to avoid those dangers while choosing to exercise their own conscience after carefully considering their own motivations and how they can avoid the dangers of the environment, just as you said regarding our choice of work.

A person can't say they were unfairly prevented from employment because they chose to work as a computer analyst for a machine company instead of being a traveling sales rep for a party bus company because the latter could increase one's exposure to worldly misconduct, time constraints or developing an inflated sense of self-worth. Likewise, choosing one college over another, one form of college education over another, or vocational training over college because they are seeking to avoid unnecessary exposure to worldly misconduct, time constraints or developing an inflated sense of self-worth has not prevented them from getting a job capable of taking care of their self and their family.
Robert said…
Good points, brother. It is really ridiculous that I have to write an article in defense of this claim as there are no sanctions whatsoever for those attending college, and seeing how easy it is to see that apostates are lying, as usual.

I completed a year-long trade learning to repair computers in which I earned two certifications. That was 10 years ago, and I take care of my wife and I well. I did go to college for a few months after that off-campus, but as the organization pointed out, the time demands interfered with my ministry and meeting preparation, so I quit. I did not need to go to college, but I thought that it would increase my job prospects.

In the few months I attended college, I saw that the organization's warnings came to be very valid, and I am glad I paid attention to them. I chose to go, and I chose to quit. I never blamed anyone for my choices. I never blamed the world for my reasons for going, either.

I think that's where these accusations come from. The former members who chose to forgo college need someone to blame to make themselves feel better on the inside. So they blame us, and look to justify it by twisting WT articles.

Accountability is a real problem today. People are consistently looking for someone else to blame.

Unknown said…
I slightly chuckled when I read the quote from the 50's article that stated those choosing college: "to attain a high position and honor and esteem of men which a college education subsequently leads to." While that may have been true decades ago, that certainly is not so now. I've met many non-JW youth who ended up strapped with debt and ended up in low-paying, thankless work.
David said…
Interesting article. I attended college as a Witness, earning my BA in Economics and Business Administration, and eventually pursued a MS in Library and Information Science. And the in the congregation I attended about 70% of the young people attended college, 50% pursued an Associates degree at at 2-year college, and the other 50% pursued a BA or higher degree. Some of the young people who attended college also pioneered. And I even know of a 55 year-old from another congregation who went on to pursue her Masters in Social Work. And when we had our graduation parties with other congregations, there would be JHS, HS and yes, college graduates as the guest of honors at those party events. So while it is true that the WT has warned of possible dangers of pursuing higher education, all depending on individual's personal goals, it was never prohibited. It was always, and still is, a personal decision as to whether or not one wishes to pursue a higher education.
Dismythed said…
Yeah, the college debt issue has been a real hot button topic lately. The choice is between choosing alternative education or accepting a life-long debt to have a mediocre career that leaves you overworked and unable to get out of debt.
Robert Murphey said…
I appreciate your comment, David. When I adjusted my viewpoint from trying to land a great paying job to taking more of a simplistic view, I understood then that a lot depends on the person's goals. My educational aims changed when my goals changed. Yes, the organization has ultimately left it up to us individually.

Its really simple to tell the truth about us, but too many would rather make stuff up.
Robert said…
Wonderful explanation, CJ.

I mean, can you "hire" a volunteer?

Dismythed said…
I have moved and updated my former responses to our sister to JW Advisor under the name Academic Regret.
Anonymous said…
When a person chooses to dedicate his life to the Almighty, all other choices such person makes, once being drawn to God's people on earth, depend upon service to God. Would Moses,any of the prophets or Paul leave God's service to go to college or to pursue a personal goal? Is being one of Jehovah's Witnesses any less of a role than the ones mentioned? Only if one does not cherish the privilege and blessing of receiving God's Holy Spirit to carry out God's will.
Dismythed said…
Unknown, [post withheld, but was almost allowed,] because that particular response was the most intelligent and level-headed statement I've ever seen from our opposers, relying on facts and not lies and exaggerations, I'm going to give you the respect of a reply.

Rhetorical questions: What is your primary focus in life, and what would you sacrifice to achieve it? For most people, it is their family. Those who understand the importance of having a loving father or mother around would give up any amount of college education if it meant maintaining a balanced, happy family life. If they know that a certain career path would take them away from the family, they would simply drop it because family is more important to them. But who is doing the college education survey on those families?

While others, who are not so wise, go headlong into careers that take them away from their families or put their families in jeopardy, or their marriages, and they suffer the penalty.

For Jehovah's Witnesses, we have put God's kingdom first, and we will sacrifice for that kingdom, for God. Just because we choose education that requires minimal or no college in order to be able to focus on the kingdom and be close to our families does not mean that we are making bad choices or giving up anything that we wouldn't give up in other circumstances. You don't need a million dollar career to be happy. You don't need gobs of university education to be educated and kept informed. You certainly don't need all that to serve God. What is needed is careful self-examination and deliberation on your life choices.
Dismythed said…
In addition, why would we bother counseling our members on education if it would have no effect on their decisions? The numbers simply reflect that many of us have chosen to follow the counsel of the organization. It is no indicator of blind obedience. It only indicates that the membership believes that the counsel is worth following, most likely because of giving it careful consieration as we instruct them to do. Where is the survey that asks whether our members were simply blindly obeying or if they genuinely gave the question of what college education they actually NEED any consideration?
Robert said…
Indeed. Over the years in the organization, I've learned how to think and weigh the pros and cons of higher education. My high school counselor, whom I admired, never encouraged me to sit down and identify my goals in life and chose my educational endeavors accordingly. You were supposed to get a 4 or more year degree and that was that. Hence, this is why I especially enjoyed brother Brumley's interview on the Jan 2015 Broadcast. It opened other paths that we can take to keep the Kingdom first, while pursuing secular education that will be more than able to provide for us materially. Its about having a good balance.
Dismythed said…
Sorry, T, I could not permit your post because it did not represent a respectful attitude, nor represent us well.
Tom Harley said…
Anyone who would criticize the JW discouragement of 4-6 year college, to be fair, should also consider college's 'satisfaction' index, for it is not free, nor do jobs necessarily await heavily indebted graduates. Moreover, if you drop out, as huge numbers do, you find yourself working at fast food to pay off tens of thousands in college loans.
Dismythed said…

You may contact us directly using the contact form in the side column and the person you have addressed will reply.
Robert said…
Tom, good point. I never really considered the idea that employers would pass on high-debt graduates. They appear to be a flight risk in the sense that they will always be looking for a better paying job to pay off their debt.

I am still seeing commercials today that claim graduates will make a million more over the course of a lifetime than non-graduates. I never believed that.

It's seems the brothers were onto something back in the 50s, the golden-age of college degrees. Even then were were espousing divine education over secular education. Now our warnings were legitimate. Of course, I thank Jah for giving them that insight using the Bible.

It was mentioned that ones college grad viewed his debt as a "prison sentence" seeing he would need to earn double his salary to have a shot at paying it off.

Good stuff there!

Dismythed said…

What you conveniently ignored around the text you cited from the March 15, 1969 was the same kind of statements we highlighted in the blog post above:

"Many schools now have student counselors who encourage one to pursue higher education after high school, to pursue a career with a future in this system of things. Do not be influenced by them. . . . to get ahead, to make something of yourself in this world. . . . "

Just because we hold someone as an example for their wise use of time in this system by preferring the full time ministry over getting ahead in the world does not mean we want everyone to abandon any thought of higher education. If one wants to pursue a reasonable schedule of higher education in order to benefit the organization, we would never discourage that, as long as the person has counted the cost and does not needlessly threaten their own spirituality.

Also, we no longer subscribe to the notion of "brainwashing", as it has been discredited by the modern APA as of a study by Robbins and Anthony 1992.

As regards your opinion on the lie that we "banned organ transplants", see the blog post, Did Jehovah's Witnesses previously Ban Organ Transplants?

Our fault-finding opposers seem to be the only ones with "psychological" baggage on the issues of higher education and organ transplants, Opposers that seem to like to study us more closely for every word to twist in our ample publication history than their own religion's publications.
Dismythed said…

You do enough spin doctoring for the both of us. I highlighted the actual relevant information that you misrepresented as not being there. I also gave the exact issue of the Watchtower so that others can actually look it up for themselves. It's called helping others do their homework.
Educate women said…
Your a bunch of idiots ignorant brainwashed fools heaven forbid if women can think
Dismythed said…
I can’t believe an apostate would have such an disconnected view about us, so I’m going to address your comment as if you are someone who knows nothing about us.

How does our stand on higher education have anything to do with discrimination against women? Unless you can show that men can go to college but women can’t, then your point is moot. We have never implied that women have no right to learn or teach. Women and children up to 18 the sisters are not only permitted to teach, but expected to. They are permitted to teach unbaptized men, but simply not allowed to teach baptized brothers or the congregation as a whole unless there are no qualified brothers.

We educate the sisters right alongside men in Bible schools and send them into missionary fields even without husbands. Sisters, even unbaptized women are permitted to provide example presentations and have other parts on stage in ways that assist in the education work. The only schools they are not permitted in are those for elders and ministerial servants.

We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we did not educate our sisters. After all, they do about 90% of the preaching work. They are the primary means by which people, even men, come into the truth.

We had a 65% female workforce constructing our Bethel facilities. We have a sister directing an art department and sisters on writing and translation committees. In fact, we have sisters in almost every non-elder-dependent department at Bethel.

Other than the rule that women are not permitted to exercise spiritual authority over men unless there are no baptized men around, we have been identified as the most female-friendly religious organization in the world by news reporters and construction companies.

When most secular companies are still catching up to the idea that women can do anything men can do, we are leading the pack in female participation.

Sense we follow the Scriptures to the letter, our view on women exercising spiritual authority over a man will never change, but we will always treat the sisters with respect as partners, not inferiors.
Updated post with following heading: Are Parents Disciplined for Their Child's Choice?