The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at University of California, Los Angeles, led by UCLA Professors Alexander W. Astin and Helen S. Astin, released a study this week showing that although college students profess a high sense of spirituality, professors do not talk about religion or provide opportunities for students to discuss their spirituality. The study has led Astin to conclude that school institutions especially non-religious ones are not open to bringing religion into the classroom.
"The great traditions at the core of a liberal arts education were grounded in the maxim, 'know thyself,'" Astin said. "But today developing self-awareness receives little attention on campuses, and academic work has become divorced from students' most deeply felt values. At the same time, the spiritual growth of students, in the broadest sense, receives virtually no attention in discussions about educational reform."
HERI, widely regarded as one of the premiere research and policy organizations on postsecondary education in the country, surveyed 3,680 students in focus groups at 46 colleges nationwide about their spiritual and religious lives both in and out of the classroom.
Astin found that although 77 percent of the students said they prayed frequently and agreed that "we are all spiritual beings", 62 percent of students said their professors do not talk about religion in class, particularly in non-religious universities.
After the study was conducted, Astin stated, "The conclusion is that in most institutions, this still pretty much is in the closet. Students don't feel particularly comfortable talking about it."
Astin noted the sample was not large enough to merit geographical distinctions.
However, this fall, Astin plans to go further in-depth on studying the spirituality of college students in a more elaborate project. Investigators will track the progress of incoming freshman at 150 universities nationwide and provide additional follow-ups and new freshman surveys to be conducted every three years to chart changes and trends in the spiritual development of college students.
"This survey will bring to light the beliefs, behaviors and attitudes of a wide range of students," Astin said. "And the findings may lead to curricular and other transformations in higher education."