Whether the source is God and Man at Yale or any number of more recent studies, the conflict between a college education and the faith that students bring to campus (secular campuses at least) is well accepted. The more you pursue a higher education, the more likely you are to abandon your faith — at least that’s what conventional wisdom holds.
“Actually we’ve just been wrong about this for quite a while,” said Mark D. Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of a new study that suggests students who attend and graduate from college are more likely than others to hold on to their faith.
A perceived sense of practicality seems to be holding sway:
Regnerus said that what the study suggests — and his personal experience confirms — is that while there are plenty of non-religious professors around, they aren’t trying to discourage any students from practicing their faith. “Of course there are some who are hostile to religion. But they don’t teach that. They teach their discipline,” Regnerus said. The attitude, he added, is: “Whatever I think about evangelicals, when I go to teach quantum physics, I teach quantum physics.”
More broadly, so many students are in pre-professional programs, Regnerus said, that they are focused on practical matters much more than on wondering whether God exists. As a Christian who earned his undergraduate degree at Trinity Christian College, Regnerus said he spent a lot of time talking about philosophical issues in college, but that’s not the norm for many undergrads these days. (Christian colleges in recent years have experienced a boom, in part from students who don’t want to become secular, or whose parents don’t want them to become secular, and Regnerus said his study doesn’t contradict that belief. Because there is a decline in religious connection during the college years — looking at religious and secular institutions together — those at religious colleges are less likely to experience that decline.)