College Students Are Becoming Increasingly Spiritual

When 18-year-old Alexandria Queen first stepped foot on the campus of Howard University, she came with a shallow pool of religious experiences. Four years later, the graduating senior insists that her spiritual growth since freshman year has been “tremendous” and continues to surge.

Queen is part of a burgeoning trend of college students who are becoming increasingly spiritual during their tenure in college, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The report developed by The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA uncovered that college juniors are “more engaged in a spiritual quest” than they were as freshmen. While only 41 percent of college freshmen reported “integrating spirituality into my life” as “important” or “essential,” 50 percent of those same students three years later agreed that spiritual integration was necessary.

The data is based on a survey of more than 14,000 college students on 136 campuses at the start of their freshman year in fall 2004 and again at the end of their junior year in spring 2007.

“Many students are emerging from the collegiate experience with a desire to find spiritual meaning and perspective in their everyday lives,” says Alexander W. Astin, co-principal investigator for the project and professor emeritus at UCLA.

Alexander Astin along with his wife, Helen Astin, a retired professor from UCLA, insist that higher education has been neglecting the “inner” development of students, such as their emotional maturity, self-understanding and spirituality, in an effort to focus on the professional development of students. And, while attendance at religious services declined over the four-year period, college students still grapple with questions of spiritual purpose and life’s meaning.

According to the report, by their junior year, students express higher levels of “equanimity,” or calmness, and a more universal, or “ecumenical,” worldview. In addition, attaining inner harmony was reported as “very important” or “essential” by 48 percent of the students when they were freshmen, but that figure jumped to 62 percent by junior year.

“In college you are still growing, still learning. Before college, I went to church with my family and that was that. In college, my spirituality became a reality as opposed to a hobby. I learned to apply my knowledge of God to things like schoolwork and internships,” says Queen, who is president of Christian Sisters United, a student religious organization on campus.

Growth in the spiritual values of students also extended to their sense of tolerance for other groups. College juniors were more eager than entering freshmen to enhance their understanding of other countries and cultures and improve the human condition.

Over time, students also become more liberal in their political ideology and attitudes toward socio-cultural issues. A greater percentage of college juniors supported same-sex marriages, legal abortion and abolishing the death penalty.

Queen adds, “College has definitely helped me to become more open-minded. Entering college, I was very dogmatic. Being able to understand and accept different religions is something college afforded me.”

–Michelle J. Nealy

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