I have sometimes argued that on the whole, college is bad for Christian youth.

A recent study has been released that disconfirms that theory: students who don’t go to college tend to leave their religion more than those who do attend college.  People of faith,* however, shouldn’t be very enthusiastic about the actual findings:

The surprising research went further to find that those who never attended college had the highest rates of decline in church attendance (76.2 percent), diminished importance placed on religion (23.7 percent), and disaffiliation from religion (20.3 percent). Students who earned at least a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, had the lowest rates on those three factors with 59.2 percent indicating decreased church attendance and 15 percent placing less importance on religion and disaffiliating from religion.

60% who decreased attendance at their religious services doesn’t exactly bode well for those traditions.  When I have defended the claim that college is bad for Christians, I have argued that though they may still adhere to the tenets of the faith, many young people become secularized without knowing it.  A decline in church attendence while still maintaining a high view of religion wouldn’t be surprising, if this account is right (presuming, of course, that this study is typical of Christians).

In all, the synopsis raises more questions than it answers.  But one thing is clear:  if we think that having 59.2% of our students decrease their attendence at church is acceptable because it’s lower than those who don’t attend college, then we other problems to deal with.
*I used as much generic language to speak of the referents of this study, as the synopsis didn’t specify which religion, if any, it focused on.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. There seems to be a lot of disaggregation required before making too much hay about the article. It could turn out, for example, that Baptists are 50 times likelier than Anglicans to abandon their faith in the university, or that Christians who attend Christian universities are 6.2% less likely.


  2. Jim,

    I agree. I briefly tried to get ahold of the article yesterday and failed, but I’ll keep trying.


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