Master of Education in Higher Education

Encouraging Spiritual Development of College Students

Spirituality among college students can have a big effect on their academic performance and psychological well-being. Universities can help them succeed by fostering an environment that is conducive to spiritual development. To learn more, checkout this infographic created by Abilene Christian University’s Online Masters in Higher Education program.

ACU MED Spiritual Development

Spirituality on College Campuses

A survey asked college students to describe themselves as one of the following: religious, spiritual or secular. Their answers were spread fairly evenly among the options with 32.4% saying that they were more spiritual, 31.8% describing themselves as religious, and 28.2% finding greater affinity with secularism. More than two-thirds of the respondents admitted that they pray. The vast majority say that they are searching for meaning and purpose. Half consider it essential to seek further opportunities to help them grow spiritually. These answers are quite revealing. They show the mindset of young adults who are in a critical phase of their lives.

When asked whether they thought it was important for them to follow religious teachings in their everyday life, 40% answered in the affirmative. Those who believe in God vastly outnumber those who don’t. However, a study found that student engagement in religious services tends to drop off as time went on. In the first semester, the average attendance is 1.6 times a month. By the second semester, this drops down to just once a month. The trend is consistent as they stay longer in the university. There are a lot of possible reasons for this including academic load, new social groups, and the rise of other interests.

There was another survey on the topic that was conducted at 50 colleges and universities to get a good sample size. It found that 14% of freshmen participate in campus religious groups frequently. A further 16% did the same but only on occasion. They followed the patterns as the years went on. It showed that student engagement drops by 23% in the first three years of college. Even the most enthusiastic ones can lose their way for a bit. This trend goes on throughout their adult life. In fact, one study found that only 20% of individuals who were heavily involved in their church during their teenage years remained active by the time they hit 29.

Statistics on the Effects of Spiritual Growth

Countless researchers have taken on this subject from different angles. Their findings are mostly congruent. They point to the fact that there are many benefits of being spiritual on our physical health and psychological well-being. When asked whether they frequently feel at peace, 46% of spiritual students said yes. Only 16% of the non-questers answered in the affirmative. That is a big gap that certainly merits further questions for a deeper understanding. There is clearly something about spirituality that makes people feel more centered which is a goal of a lot of individuals.

Among students struggling with religious issues, 26% often found themselves staying up all night, 10% missed school because of illness, and 34% were struggling to maintain a healthy diet. The numbers were far lower among those who aren’t having any internal struggles when it comes to religion. It can be argued from this that the mental stress is seeping into other areas of their lives and making them unhealthy. It has also been established that highly spiritual and religious students are more likely to abstain from alcohol and cigarettes compared to their peers. They are better at sticking to a healthy diet and maintaining above average physical health.

A broad study which encompassed over fourteen thousand college students found that those who reported being at least somewhat religious experienced fewer symptoms of depression than those who declared themselves as non-religious. Their beliefs were able to shield them from anxiety and other negative thoughts. This is perhaps because they feel like they have some form of support from a high power; that things are always in God’s control, even if they personally cannot do anything in many situations. This ability to control their thoughts and adhere to a more positive mindset helps them immensely as they go through a lot of tough times as young adults.

How Universities Can Encourage Spiritual Development

So far we have learned that spiritually helps students cope with physical and mental challenges. We are also aware that their engagement drops over time. This is a non-ideal situation wherein people are walking away from what seems to be a good solution to many of their problems. Universities may consider encouraging the spiritual development of their population to help students become more successful in both their academic and extra-curricular activities. There are a lot of things that they can do if they are serious about focusing on this issue. Some are relatively simple while others require a bit more resources.

For instance, they can start by providing facilities that support the religious and spiritual lives of students. This does not mean that they should start building structures all around the campus as this would take a great deal of money. Perhaps they can repurpose certain areas for this type of use or help improve existing ones. They may also create an institutional office or staff role that provides information and resources on spiritual life on campus. This gives interested individuals with easy access to the things that they sorely need. This issue can be made an integral component of student leadership programs and experiences.

The university may offer courses to freshmen that explore the relationship of spirituality to college learning and development. Start them at a young age and strengthen their resolve to continue on this path. This could also become a major theme for campus activity programming. Events may be held to highlight the issue. The faculty should also be involved in this drive. New instructors should be encouraged to discuss ways in which they can attend to this aspect of the students needs both inside the classroom and beyond.

There could be an implementation of professional development programs that can prepare the staff, faculty, and peer leaders to facilitate discussions on spiritual issues. As students come from diverse backgrounds, there could be interfaith forums that promote understanding among them. Guest speakers may also be invited to discuss the topic.

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