North Central College - Naperville, IL

Spiritual growth important to college students, researchers tell NAC&U members

Print Email Share

Helen and Alexander Astin
Helen and Alexander Astin

June 23, 2011—Colleges and universities can do a better job encouraging undergraduates to explore spirituality, preeminent higher education researchers Alexander and Helen Astin said during the keynote address for The New American Colleges and Universities’ 2011 Summer Institute at North Central College.

Young adults who experience growth in spirituality during their undergraduate experience are more likely to have higher grade-point averages and pursue graduate studies, Helen Astin said, citing an eight-year study that resulted in their latest book, “Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives.”

“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.

Faculty-related factors that positively contribute to spiritual development include direct encouragement, reflective writing and journaling, collaborative group practices, and contemplative practices in class. Other factors—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 told the audience of NAC&U members.

Practices that hinder spiritual growth during college years include watching television and playing video games, he said.

The Astins are the inaugural recipients of NAC&U’s Ernest L. Boyer Award, a new honor named for the late president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who helped inspire the founding of NAC&U in 1995.

June 22 forum features MacArthur Foundation chief of staff

During a Featured Forum held the afternoon of Wednesday, June 22, guest speaker Sean Paul Knierim—chief of staff for the president of the $5.6 billion John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation—gave a talk titled “Reimagining Learning in the 21st Century: The Partnership Between Foundations and Higher Education.”

In opening the forum, Knierim said the things the MacArthur Foundation is pursuing are similar to the goals that many of the colleges represented in NAC&U are pursuing. Among those is a commitment to service, justice, conservation, new technologies as part of educational reform, and accessibility to education. These common interests are areas for potential partnerships, he said.

In addition, he noted that faculty members, not colleges or universities, are the ones who develop relationships with foundations and receive funding for their research and projects that fit the goals of the Foundation. Among those goals related to education are migration (who’s coming to our classrooms), justice (preparing students to work with NGOs around the world), conservation and climate change, and educational reform, which includes looking at ways today’s students are using technology to learn.

Because the MacArthur Foundation is a strategic foundation, it’s always looking for new ideas, which Knierim said, are best generated in collaboration with others. NAC&U’s Summer Institute is a good example of a collaborative environment where people are brought together to network, create and think. “Groups of people create new ideas” and that’s an important function of organizations like NAC&U, Knierim said.

NAC&U members are gathered in Naperville for the 15th annual Summer Institute. The theme of this year’s three-day conference is “Preparing and Evaluating 21st Century Faculty: Aligning Expectations, Competencies, and Rewards.”

NAC&U is a national consortium of 20 selective, small to mid-sized independent colleges and universities dedicated to the purposeful integration of liberal education, professional studies, and civic engagement.