Does Going to College Kill Your Faith?

Kara Powell

We launched our Sticky Faith research at FYI because we wanted to understand how we could better prepare youth group graduates for what awaits them in college. At times, we’ve somewhat used the term “college” loosely to mean life after high school. 

It’s interesting to me how many folks I run into who assume that the college environment is inherently hostile to the Christian faith.  Having not been in college for more years than I want to admit in this blog post, I can’t say whether students who attend college have more, or different, challenges to their faith than those who join the workforce or perhaps even the military (and due to the necessarily narrow focus of most all research, we haven't studied those environments in our research so far).

Dr. Christian Smith and his team at the National Study of Youth and Religion have tracked 13-17 year-olds as they become emerging adults.  His data can help answer this question:  Does going to college -- in and of itself -- negatively affect a high school graduate’s faith? 

According to his findings, it doesn’t.  While young adults’ overall level of religiosity declines, it doesn’t decline significantly further for those who attend college. 1 So let’s be honest with our students about what they’ll face in college.  Sure, it will be tough and they will certainly face faculty and peers who will challenge their faith.  But perhaps it’s not as hostile an environment as we might assume.  And that’s good news.


Reposted from the Fuller Youth Institute blog, August 26, 2009.

  1. See Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults for details and more data analysis from this study.
Published Sep 06, 2012
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of over 20 years, she serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women You Should Know", Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

blog comments powered by Disqus