While their attendance at religious services declines, college students nationwide show significant growth in a wide spectrum of spiritual and ethical considerations during their first three years of college, according to a UCLA study, the first longitudinal research project of its kind.
Compared to when they were entering freshmen, college juniors are more likely to be engaged in a spiritual quest, are more caring, and show higher levels of equanimity and an ecumenical worldview. While 41.2 percent of freshmen in 2004 reported they considered developing a meaningful philosophy of life "very important" or "essential," just three years later in 2007 a 55.4 percent majority of those same students agreed. Additionally, "attaining inner harmony" was reported as "very important" or "essential" by 48.7 percent when they were freshmen in 2004, and jumped to 62.6 percent by 2007.
"Many students are emerging from the collegiate experience with a desire to find spiritual meaning and perspective in their everyday lives," said UCLA Emeritus Professor Alexander W. Astin, co-principal investigator for the project. "The data suggest that college is influencing students in positive ways that will better prepare them for leadership roles in our global society."
The first longitudinal study to examine empirical evidence of a subject often considered controversial in higher education, "Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose," examines data collected from 14,527 students attending 136 colleges and universities nationwide, and documents students’ spiritual development as undergraduates. Researchers at The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA surveyed students as entering freshmen in the fall of 2004 and again in the ate spring of 2007 at the end of their junior year. In addition to rating college students’ spiritual values, the study explores changes during college in students’ religious beliefs and commitment, political orientation and attitudes, and health and well-being.