(Photo: AP Images / Brian Kersey)
A study of alumni from two Christian liberal arts colleges shows that a high majority of graduates remain interested in maintaining their faith and worldview from a religious perspective even after they’ve left the university, said a professor who led the research.
The four-year study also suggests that “the integration of Christian values within a college experience ensures the successful well-being of graduates,” according to the report released recently by Gordon College psychology professor Kaye Cook.
Nearly 1,000 Christian graduates from Gordon College and Wheaton College were interviewed on subjects such as spiritual commitment, identity and well-being.
Cook and her team of researchers found that even four years after graduation, 97 percent of the alumni considered themselves moderately to extremely interested in religion, with 76 percent attending church at least once a week.
“That means, those who entered a Christian college with a strong faith graduated four years later with a faith commitment intact – though one that had been tested and deepened,” said Cook in the report. “And we found that their education gave them a higher sense of life satisfaction and well-being, in part because they felt they had a worldview that enabled them to face life’s challenges.”
Christian liberal arts colleges are uniquely dedicated to worldview exploration and character development, said Cook, who is on the board of the international Association for Moral Education and was a recent visiting professor at Dartmouth College.
Cook told The Christian Post that she was prompted to do the study by the growing interest in “emerging adults,” as evidenced by more studies about 16- to 30-year-olds.
“There are many things we’ve learned from this study. First, is that college higher education needs to look more carefully about what we are doing to our emerging adults,” Cook said. “We need to pay more attention to worldviews and to support emerging adults as they struggle to figure out who they are and what they believe in.”
Cook said that college students can often experience a disorganized, piecemeal, even agnostic approach to higher education.
“Christian colleges have to have a tolerance for raising questions and be willing to explore questions more deeply than maybe we many times feel comfortable with,” she said. “I think (students) raising questions about faith within the context of faith can make one’s faith stronger.”
Cook said that her research also shows that religious faith improves overall well-being.
“Religious faith has multiple positive effects on daily life; it improves well-being by influencing one’s personal characteristics (identity) and relationships (attachment), and the choices one makes,” she said in her study.
“One’s worldview, although it receives little attention in the (academic) literature, is conceptually intertwined with the other two measures of identity and attachment,” Cook said. “And the data shows that Christian college graduates retain their faith to a striking degree.
“Consequently, Christian colleges can serve as a model for a context in which values and academic disciplines are taken seriously, and within which one can be encouraged to develop coherent values to secure success beyond college.”
The study titled, “Is a Christian College Education ‘Worth It’? Worldview Development Among Christian College Students as a Model for the Larger Academy,” was funded in part by an initiative grant from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
The research team included co-principal Cynthia Kimball, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College; Kathleen Leonard, visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell; Chris Boyatzis, professor of psychology at Bucknell University; and 16 Gordon College undergraduate students.