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College graduates likelier to hold on to their faith

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When people think of college students, they don't often associate them with devout churchgoers, but a recent study published in the June edition of Social Forces shows that college students are less likely to lose their faith than those that did not attend college.

In the article "Losing My Religion," researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that 59 percent of people who earned at least a bachelor's degree experienced a decline in religious service attendance, while 76.2 percent of people who did not attend college admit to experiencing a decline in religiosity.

The researchers attribute these figures to a change in programs and student values.

Mark Regnerus, associate sociology professor at the University of Texas and co-author of the study, attributed the change to the different nature of the university and student values in recent years, saying, "We've seen in the last 20 years, rapid growth in preprofessional programs."

This emphasis, he says, comes as wealthy business owners over the past century donated money to schools to develop their professional programs. Since college students are turning to more professional programs and away from liberal arts, the authors contend, they "may be less prone to grapple with issues central to their religious faith."

Though it would seem that people who did not attend college would be even less likely to have to question their beliefs, the study found people who did not attend college were likelier to attend religious services less frequently, to assign less importance to religion and to abandon religion altogether. Mr. Regnerus said this may be caused by the factors facing these young adults as they move into a "consumer-oriented" world.

Mr. Regnerus said the results were almost the same, regardless of whether the college students went to a secular or a religious school. He added that "social class didn't make a difference."

Overall, regardless of whether they went to college, 70 percent of young adults find themselves attending church less than when they were younger, one-fifth say religion is less important to them and one-sixth disassociate themselves with their religion.

The study also showed that Jews, Catholics, and black Protestants tend to hold on to their religion more than other groups. The authors of this study suggest that this is because those religious affiliations are more likely to be interconnected with a person's culture. Women, Southerners and children who did not come from a broken home also show a strong bond to their faiths.

Marriage, cohabitation and children also seems to affect whether a person retains their religious practices, the study found. Married young adults and those who have children at home were more likely to be religious as opposed to those who cohabit. The study proposes that this is caused by religions frowning on cohabitation because of implied premarital sex. The study also suggests that children increase religiosity because parents want them to grow up with a strong set of values.

The study used information from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which followed more than 10,000 Americans from adolescence through their early adult years.