Study of college students tracks their faith and spirituality
A study of college students determined recently that students tend to go to church less often when they start to enter college, but they also become more spiritual over time.
The book, Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives, is based on a longitudinal study that involved 112,000 students in 2004 who were entering their freshmen years, then were followed up when they became juniors, The Chronicle of Higher Education said.
The book, authored by Alexander Astin, Helen Astin and Jennifer Lindholm, was based on the study of the University of California at Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute. It included a subsample of 15,000 juniors in 2007, The Chronicle said.
Alexander Astin, a professor emeritus at UCLA, said that during college a student meets new people with different ideas. As freshmen, students only know the ideas they were raised with, but college becomes a safe place for them to challenge and explore their spirituality, the Los Angeles Times reported.
While letting go of church rituals, students embrace “cornerstones of spirituality” such as asking existential questions, helping their community, and showing empathy. Astin told the Los Angeles Times, “These spiritual qualities are critical and vital to many things a student does in college and after.”
The Los Angeles Times said students who were more spiritual also did better academically, showed leadership abilities, and were friendlier and more satisfied with their college life.
At the same time, the seven-year study showed that the college environment tends to emphasize thinking over feeling, and knowledge over heart, which is a disadvantage to students and faculty. Because of this, the authors said that universities and colleges should proactively help students to become more spiritual, The Vancouver Sun reported.
Process of study
According to the website, the study examined five spiritual qualities, namely equanimity (staying calm and centered amid stress), spiritual quest (seeking answers to life’s big questions), ethic of caring (compassion for others), charitable involvement (a lifestyle that includes service) and ecumenical worldview (a global worldview). The study defined spirituality as embracing all of these qualities.
The website also cited five qualities that were explored in relation to religion, namely commitment, social conservatism, engagement, religious struggle, and skepticism.
The study showed that through the years students become more spiritual and caring. By their junior year, eight in 10 respondents are, at minimum, “moderately” involved in a spiritual quest, and wish to seek inner harmony and meaning in life, The Chronicle said.
The Vancouver Sun noted that students who develop equanimity have a 50 percent better chance to get at least a B+ average, and are three times as likely to be “very satisfied” with their college life.
Activities that strengthen spiritual growth
The Los Angeles Times reported that students in liberal arts tend to be more spiritual than those in math and science. Also, over-involvement in television, video games and partying inhibits spiritual growth.
College activities such as studying abroad, interracial interaction, engaging in interdisciplinary studies and service learning tend to enhance spirituality, The Vancouver Sun reported, because they allow students to meet people with different cultures and ideas.
The study said universities and colleges can foster spirituality in students by introducing experiences that contain meditation, self-reflection and contemplation. Astin told The Chronicle, “We can be doing a lot more of that inside and outside of the classes.”