Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives

In honor of today’s National Collegiate Day of Prayer, I thought I would highlight Alexander W. AstinHelen S. AstinJennifer A. Lindholm‘s new book, Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives.

Noted expert on college student spirituality, Parker J. Palmer, calls their work “A groundbreaking study of the spiritual growth of college students … This is an essential book for anyone in academia who cares about the education of the whole person.”

Cultivating the Spirit details the findings of “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” UCLA‘s seven-year study examining the role that college plays in facilitating the development of students’ spiritual qualities.  Study highlights include:

The Study

“In 2003, we began a seven-year study examining how students change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.

We analyzed extensive data collected from 14, 527 students attending 136 colleges and universities nationwide, undertook personal interviews with individual students, held focus groups, and also surveyed and interviewed faculty. We developed measures of… five “Spiritual Qualities,” and five “Religious Qualities.”

Prayer Vigil at Northern Illinois University: Spirituality becomes MORE important to students while in college not less

The Findings

We found (that) Although religious engagement declines somewhat during college, [however] students’ spiritual qualities grow substantially.

Students show the greatest degree of growth in the five spiritual qualities if they are actively engaged in “inner work” through self-reflection, contemplation, or meditation.

Meditation and self-reflection are among the most powerful tools for enhancing students’ spiritual development.

Providing students with more opportunities to connect with their “inner selves” facilitates growth in their academic and leadership skills, contributes to their intellectual self-confidence and psychological well-being, and enhances their satisfaction with college.

Students also show substantial increases in Spiritual Quest when their faculty encourage them to explore questions of meaning and purpose or otherwise show support for their spiritual development.

Educational experiences and practices that promote spiritual development – especially service learning, interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, self-reflection, and meditation – have uniformly positive effects on traditional college outcomes.

The Conclusion

It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

Assisting students’ spiritual growth will help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing technological society with a greater sense of equanimity.

If colleges and universities [better] emphasized activities and practices that promote spiritual development – such as self-reflection, interdisciplinary studies, and study abroad – how would traditional outcomes such as academic performance and leadership development be affected?”

So… you might want to consider joining in praying for our nation’s college students today.  It might be one the best things we can do to increase the effectiveness of our colleges.

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