North Central College - Naperville, IL

Inspirational keynote

By hosting the 2011 Summer Institute of The New American Colleges and Universities (NAC&U), North Central faculty and staff enjoyed a rare opportunity to hear the latest findings by preeminent higher education researchers Alexander and Helen Astin (pictured right), who presented the keynote address. The couple shared their eight-year study on spirituality among undergraduate students, which resulted in the publication of “Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives.”

Both hold the title of professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School for Education and Information Studies.

“Spiritual growth has almost universally good effects on traditional college outcomes like G.P.A. and interest in pursuing graduate studies,” Helen Astin said.

The Astins surveyed 112,000 first-year college students and 61,000 faculty and found that about 80 percent of students have an interest in spirituality. Factors that positively contribute to spiritual development—many of which NAC&U institutions already emphasize—include service learning, interdisciplinary courses, charitable giving, interracial interaction, leadership training, student organizations and study abroad programs.

“Reflective writing is a very powerful practice that is not used as much as it should be in the undergraduate experience,” Alexander Astin said. Practices that hinder spiritual growth during college years include watching television and playing video games, he added.

“Their research validates what we have already been doing at North Central to engage the whole student—mentally, physically and spiritually,” says Jeremy Gudauskas ’05/M ’11, assistant dean of students. “They do a good job of defining the sometimes nebulous concept of spirituality and it now becomes applicable to every discipline and department on campus. If embraced, the spiritual health of our students becomes a campus-wide responsibility, not isolated to our campus ministry or religious studies departments.”

Since its founding in 1995, NAC&U has grown to 20 institutions from coast to coast. The consortium of selective, small to mid-sized independent colleges and universities is dedicated to the purposeful integration of liberal education, professional studies and civic engagement. “When we started this organization we were the ugly ducklings of higher education. Now we’re the swans,” President Harold Wilde said. “The conviviality among NAC&U institutions is unique. We have an unusual culture of sharing.”

North Central Now Fall 2011