I appreciate the time that I spent at universities. However, the encouragement that we should be on our guard at all times is very timely. The Word of God says that we are to "prove (test) everything" and to hold on to the good (I Thessalonians 5:21).
When I met with Leonard Ravenhill as a youth shortly before he passed away, this was the greatest advice that he said that he could impress upon me. He told me that believers have become too "accepting" of what they have been told or taught. This is why the church is in the condition it is in. Interestingly, jimp stated that Brother Ravenhill exhorted him with same message.
Not only did I maintain my faith while attending secular universities, I grew in my faith as well. I was able to find other believers on campus and fellowship with them. I attended (and held) Bible studies, wonderful prayer meetings and simple times of worship. Our group of believers was very active too. We assisted open air preachers who visited campus. We evangelized. We encouraged those who were in need, struggling or those who felt a desire to "find" God. We placed posters around campus to spread the message that contained telephone numbers and email addresses in case someone wanted help.
As a result, we saw tremendous things happen on campus. Our campus "church" met in a "large upper room" in the Student Union building and eventually became standing room only. We didn't use "gimmicks" to spread our message. Our work was very simple. We met for prayer, simple worship/praise and Bible studies. In fact, there were several occasions in which believers met in my dorm room as we listened to messages from SermonIndex via my computer. Afterward, we would spend wonderful time in prayer. Those were great times!
Now, those who attend universities today can attend for many different reasons.
As Compton said, it is a great means for "self-learning." The best professors that I ever had -- even if I disagreed with them -- encouraged students to study and prove them either right or wrong. I remember attending Physics and Engineering classes where the professors would explain that many of the things that he teaches may one day be proven to be incorrect. So, a student at a university isn't just "instructed" in mere "facts." A student is encouraged to listen to instruction and then validate whether it is correct, incorrect or somewhere in between.
I think that this is key for believers. It is true at universities (secular or "religious"), work and even in our churches. Too many believers are too "trusting" of someone else's work or research. They haven't learned to validate claims or "evidence" for themselves. They read a book or website on a subject (that is often agreed upon by other books and websites) and then feel that it is true enough to repeat the information contained within it. This is not "proving" or "testing" but "accepting" (and even placing "faith" in) something -- enough to repeat it as "fact." It can be dangerous not only to personal growth, but also in the hearts and minds of those who share a lack of "testing" via real research. The best pastors and teachers that I have heard were those who asked us to not believe them but to "test" their words to see if they are true.
Unfortunately, many students today aren't so interested in "self-learning." Many simply want a diploma. They realize that a diploma will open many more doors for them that "self-learning" will not. Yes, they will pick up skills while in college. However, more times than not, they are interested in simply "earning" the degree (which is much easier to do than "earning" an education) and then obtaining a higher paying job with better job security. They do the least amount of "study" while in school with the motto "D as in Diploma." There used to be a joke that you would hear among students, "What do you call a doctor, engineer or teacher who graduates with a 'C' average?" The answer? "A doctor, engineer or teacher."
I do find it odd that there are some believers who not only discourage education but declare it to be "evil." Yet, those same individuals partake in the "fruit" of the education itself. They visit hospitals or doctors who were educated in medical schools. They seek attorneys who were educated in law schools. They use computers that use parts designed by engineers and scientists who became engineers and scientists at universities. They reside in homes constructed by carpenters but were designed or approved by architects (educated at universities). They drive vehicles upon roads that were designed by educated men and women. They use things like cell phones, the internet, bicycles, lights, plumbing, printers, tablets, GPS devices, books from printing presses, etc... -- that were often largely designed by individuals who were educated at colleges, universities or trade schools.
Now, a person can be skilled WITHOUT an education. A person can be an apprentice and earn much-needed skills and knowledge. A person without an education can become financially successful too. In fact, a person can be a "scientist" or "engineer" without even having stepped foot in a university -- because "self-learning" is vital to research and can be embraced without a formal education (even if a university provides many tools that are difficult to come across outside).
I can think of a handful of engineers, scientists and even medical researchers who lacked formal education.
Vivien Thomas was a medical researcher who was instrumental in the development of open heart surgery. He was a poor African American janitor with nothing more than a high school education. After seeing his janitor looking through his anatomy books, renowned surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock asked Thomas to assist him in his pioneering research into "blue baby syndrome" at Vanderbilt and John Hopkins. Vivien Thomas self-educated himself through books and an informal but de facto "apprenticeship" under Dr. Blalock. At one point, Thomas made the vital heart bypass discovery (on an animal test subject) for which Dr. Blalock famously declared was like "something the Lord made." Due to his work, John Hopkins University made Vivien Thomas a member of the faculty and placed his portrait in a hall of notable faculty members.
There have been other notable examples. Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright quit school after just a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Wright Brothers never graduated from college. Thomas Edison was educated through apprenticeships. Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, George Green and Srinivasa Ramanujan were inventors, scientists and mathematicians without obtaining a formal education at a college. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college but gained skills on their own prior to (or while) attendance but still found success without a degree.
I suppose that is the point. Many students today attend because they associate a greater level of opportunity and success with a degree. For the most part, this is true. It would be extremely difficult to obtain work as an engineer, scientist, architect, electrician, nurse,teacher or doctor without a formal education. So, many students attend colleges, universities or trade schools for the purpose of finding greater opportunity following an investment of a few years in school.
Christians should not be afraid of education -- even formal education. We are the light of the world and that light shines brightly in dark places. If we are firm in our walks with Christ, we don't have to fear being around all of those non-Christians at work or school. After all, while most of the apostles were perceived as "unlearned men," they could still read and write (and most even had "trades" that were learned via apprenticeships or at the feet of their fathers). Paul was highly educated. The men who wrote the Word of God could read and write. Those who translated the Word of God had to be educated in such matters.
The most important thing that a Christian must have BEFORE they attend a college or university is a firm and immovable faith in Christ. There are many voices that we will hear in life. Some of those voices can cause destruction if we allow it. On a personal level, I thank God for being admonished by Leonard Ravenhill to "test everything" while I was still a boy. This has echoed throughout my life. It has helped me to not only test what others say, but refrain from placing my faith on the words, teachings and even "facts" that are introduced to me by preachers, teachers and even professors. So, when I sat in front of professors (or pastors, teachers, etc...), I always approached them with a healthy knowledge that they are flawed men.
There are advantages of formal education. Like TMK said, you almost always need a formal education and set of degrees to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, architect, engineer or scientist. It doesn't mean that you can't obtain the same amount of education through self-learning. However, it is difficult to obtain a good job without such a degree -- especially in a specific field of study. You don't need a degree to get a job and be successful. However, a degree can be an investment in which you gain education (formal and through "tools" and "resources" available at universities) and the opportunity that comes with it.
Most importantly, I always encourage a person to PRAY and FAST before making decisions of such far-reaching magnitude. I did this before I went to college. Personally, I have never regretted it and remain grateful to the Lord for my experiences during college and the opportunities that my degrees have provided (as always, of course, with the direction of the Lord).