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Poll: Collegians’ spiritual interests get minimal campus support

LOS ANGELES (BP)–While most college professors do little to encourage spiritual engagement among their students, a recent study indicates the students are highly interested in gaining such opportunities.

The report, released Nov. 21 by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, found that more than half of college students surveyed last spring said integrating spirituality into their lives is “very important” or “essential.” Seventy-seven percent agreed that humans are spiritual beings, and 71 percent said they find religion to be personally helpful.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of students reported that their professors frequently encourage discussions of religious or spiritual matters. Sixty-two percent said their professors never encourage such discussions.

“Higher education needs to explore how well it’s meeting the great traditions at the core of a liberal arts education, grounded in the maxim, ‘know thyself,'” UCLA professor Alexander W. Astin, director of the HERI and leader of the study, said. “The survey shows that students have deeply felt values and interests in spirituality and religion, but their academic work and campus programs seem to be divorced from it.”

Only 39 percent of students said their religious or spiritual beliefs have been strengthened by “new ideas encountered in class,” and 53 percent reported that the classroom has had no impact. Fifty-five percent were satisfied with “opportunities for religious and spiritual development” provided by their college experience.

Of the students who were questioned, 77 percent said they pray, 70 percent said they attended a religious service in the past year, and 78 percent said they discuss religion or spirituality with their friends.

The study utilized a Cooperative Institutional Research Program annual survey of college freshman completed by the same students three years earlier. When comparing the most recent results with those from 2000, researchers found that one of the most dramatic changes occurred in attendance of religious services. The number of students attending religious services frequently dropped by 23 percent (52 percent to 29 percent) from when they entered college to their junior year.

Regarding their spiritual development, 65 percent said they question their religious or spiritual beliefs at least occasionally, and 73 percent acknowledged their spiritual or religious beliefs have helped them develop their identity. Seventy-four percent said those beliefs provide strength, support and guidance, and 86 percent said that an “essential” or “very important” goal in life is attaining wisdom. Only 9 percent of college students surveyed reported that their “religiousness” is “much stronger” since entering college.

Most students did not indicate that religion is necessary for living a moral life. Eighty-eight percent of students agreed that non-religious people can lead lives that are just as moral as those of religious people, and 70 percent agree that most people can grow spiritually without being religious.

The majority of college students surveyed indicated a need for God. Only 21 percent agreed that in the future science will be able to explain everything, and just 27 percent said that whether there is a Supreme Being is a matter of indifference to them. Thirty-one percent said it’s futile to try to discover the purpose of existence.

“College students are very much engaged in spirituality and religion,” Astin said in the HERI release. “Clearly, it’s far more important to them than most people in higher education may assume, and there are indicators that institutions are simply not encouraging students to delve into these issues and not supporting their search in the sphere of values and beliefs.”

The study was conducted last spring with 3,680 third-year college students from 46 diverse colleges and universities nationwide. The multi-year project by the Higher Education Research Institute is studying the trends, patterns and principles of spirituality and religiousness among college students and how the college experience influences spiritual development.

For more information about the study, visit the website at www.spirituality.ucla.edu.

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  • Erin Curry