College Students Are Keeping the Faith

The Story: Is college the enemy of faith? Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has repeatedly claimed that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some kind of faith commitment leave without it.” But Jonathan P. Hill, an assistant professor of sociology at Calvin College, says that research on higher education mostly contradicts the picture that Santorum paints.

The Background: According to Hill’s op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, studies that track the religious trajectories of young people show that the college experience itself doesn’t appear to have much to do with the observed declines in religious commitment:

Studies using comparable data from recent cohorts of young people (for example, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and the National Study of Youth and Religion) have found virtually no overall differences on most measures of identity, practice, and belief between those who head off to college and those who do not. The one exception to this is the consistent finding that college graduates attend religious services more frequently than those who do not graduate from college.

What It Means: Hill notes that unlike in Catholic and mainline Protestant institutions, both evangelical colleges and public institutions tend to curb the decline in church attendance. “Over all, though, this is good news for the faithful,” he adds. “College is clearly not the enemy of religion. Students are not abandoning their faith commitments because of their godless college professors.”

(Via: Gene Veith)

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  • Joshua Tjong

    Those who “know the reason for the hope”, who can internally or externally articulate their true faith tend to keep it. A strong faith therefore come out of grinders of tough/serious questioning. Lets train our children to know why such and such are true.

  • Thomas Larsen

    Moralistic therapeutic deism is far more dangerous to young Christians than secular philosophy.

  • Brian Jones

    This is really good news. Thanks for sharing this. As a pastor you hear theories of the impact of secular universities on faith, but very few by those who understand the complexity of the issues at hand.

  • Joel

    I’m reading more and more of these posts that discredit the idea that many go to college/universities and leave their “faith” behind (Ed Stezer posted a similar one just a week or two ago). It seems to be momentarily encouraging, but doesn’t give any answers to what IS going on. In these posts, there is no explanation of why so many students go off to college and come out of it so far from God and so hard towards the Church and the gospel. My wife and I have a college girl staying with us right now who is a prime example of this. She is one of many in our local church who this is true of. I’m not advocating that the blame be on “godless college professors”, I’m simply asking what else then is happening to these young people?

  • Andy


    Many teens go to youth group just for the entertainment. Its only natural that they’re going to leave church once they become adults. They may learn to say all the Christian language but its unlikely they have a real change of heart. These studies are not making day that kids don’t drop out of church, they are just saying that despite the fact the many Christians think liberal universities are to blame, kids who do not attend college actually drop out of church at a higher rate than kids who do.

  • Andrew

    Rodney Stark at Baylor wrote an article in the WSJ regarding this subject a while back. It is called “Religion and the Bad News Bearer.”

    It is worth reading. Google can find it for you.

    • Joshua

      google can do anything