Does college cause students to lose their faith?

I have been reading and enjoying Sam Rainer’s blog for the last month or so.  Sam is co-author of Essential Church?, which I have blogged about previously (here and here).

In his latest blog entry, Rainer discusses the impact of secular colleges on the faith of Christian students.  There seems to be a common belief that students who attend these types of colleges are at greater risk of losing their faith than those who do not.  Here is what Rainer had to say about this:

Our research has debunked the myth that the influence of the secular university pushes young adults out of the church. No significant difference exists between the dropout rates of those who attend at least a year of college and those who do not. For those that attend college, 69% of active churchgoing youth stop attending church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. Yet 71% of active youth who do not go to college stop attending church during the same period.

So overall, the college itself is not to blame for the dropout issue. What about analyzing different majors? New research from the University of Michigan reveals some surprising results on religiosity and the college major. They measure religiosity by religious attendance and how important students consider the importance of religion in their lives. Here are some highlights from the study:

  • The odds of going to college increase for high school students who attend religious services more frequently or who view religion as more important in their lives.
  • Being a humanities or a social science major has a statistically significant negative effect on religiosity.
  • Students in education and business show an increase in religiosity over their time at college.
  • Majoring in the biological or physical sciences does not affect religious attendance of students.

Are you surprised by this finding?  I have to admit that I am a little.  Does this change your feelings about attending a secular university or sending your children to one?

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13 Responses to Does college cause students to lose their faith?

  1. Robynne says:

    The humanities and social science one doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve heard so many stories of people who have had their faith completely bashed by professors in discussions, and the perspectives brought up in classes are typically anti-Christian. However, business increasing religion surprises me.

  2. Kelsey says:

    This doesn’t surprise me too much. I think most college-age Christians are capable of enough independent thinking to hold onto their faith despite anti-religious professors. I suspect the reason that many Christians fall away during college is that they get fed up with the Church. This is probably just as likely at a public university as at a Christian one, and maybe even more likely at a Christian college, since there the student is in closer proximity to the church with which they’ve gotten fed up.

  3. Tim Farley says:


    I would be interested to know what studies would show regarding those who go to Christian colleges. I would tend to believe that those students would tend to stay in church more than those who go to secular schools. Here’s why: First, most of the students going to Christian colleges and universities have chosen to go there. This choice already shows these students have a commitment to their faith. Some students may be forced (or highly “encouraged”) by their parents, but I do not believe that this is a high percentage. Secondly, even those students who are “fed up” with church would probably benefit from a Christian college experience because it would broaden their understanding of the church and help them see it as much bigger and more multi-facetted than their own personal experience. This could have a positive refreshing affect on many of those who are fed up. Of course, this assumes that those students are going to schools with a wide variety of viewpoints, which is the majority of Christian schools.

  4. Tim Farley says:

    I guess the biggest surprise to me is that those studying biology and science do not seem to be affected any more than others. This is definitely against common belief. Our culture assumes that those who understand science could never hold Christian beliefs because science and God are incompatible. This just does not seem to be the case.

    Also, those who go to college are somewhat more likely to stay in church. Another trend that goes against the common mindset that says Christianity is for the uneducated. It seems that less educated are the ones who more frequently drop out (to a small degree).

    In the end, college education does not seem to have much of an influence either way. The reason for dropouts has to lie elsewhere and my bet is that it comes from within the Church rather than from outside.

  5. jeremiah17 says:

    The law is what shuts up faith, according to scripture. God resists the prideful, and hears the humble. Does an education of “higher” learning puff up the pride in some students?

  6. Tim Farley says:


    You wrote; “Does an education of “higher” learning puff up the pride in some students?”

    Maybe I miss your point, but you seem to miss the fact that those who do not have a “higher” education tend to drop out of church more often. The less educated leave church more than the more educated. Also, those who go to church are more likely to go to college than those who do not go to church.

    You seem to be promoting ignorance as a way to make people better Christians. This only makes them ignorant Christians who are more easily swayed by deceptive arguments.

  7. jeremiah17 says:

    Acts 4:13 (King James Version)

    13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

  8. Tim Farley says:


    I still do not understand what you are saying. Quoting a verse does not tell me why you seem to promote that people should stay away from college. The passage that you quote is not telling us not to educate ourselves. You are grossly taking it out of context.

    Acts 4:13 tells us that the people were amazed at the teaching of Peter and John because they were not trained religious leaders. They were fishermen. The reason they had their knowledge is because they had spent 3 years being educated by Jesus. They had an education. They sat under a rabbi, which was the way people learned in those days (by following rabbis and learning from them). The passage tells us nothing about how well or how little we should be educated.

    If you are going to quote a passage in the future, at least explain to me why you are quoting it.

  9. jeremiah17 says:

    It’s just that. They had the right education, their preaching came with power, yours does not. The preaching of the gospel ALWAYS comes with power, if it is God speaking.

  10. Tim Farley says:

    I do not thnk you have ever been present for any sermon of mine. How can you judge? Are you saying you have the power you describe or have seen it? What is more important, a miraculous sign or the salvation of a person? What is the greater miracle, the blind receiving their sight or a sinner repenting and turning to Christ?

    To quote John Piper:

    Romans 1:16 says, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” The gospel, not signs and wonders. Paul says, “Jews demand signs, Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The “word of the cross is . . . the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Sign-seeking is a diversion from the power of Christ crucified. Thus Jesus himself said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (Matthew 12:39; 16:4).

  11. jeremiah17 says:

    you describe the wrong signs. they are different. Power is the power that raised Jesus from the dead.
    4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that means people got healed, demons cast out, lepers cleansed.You ministry cannot do this yet, but one day you might.

  12. Tim Farley says:

    “that means people got healed, demons cast out, lepers cleansed”

    Funny how those are the same signs that the religious leaders wanted Jesus to perform, but he often refused. These signs are not the gospel and they are not the primary power we should seek. Our greatest desire is to see people’s lives changed by the word of God as they repent of their sins and turn to Christ. That is the fruit we need to look for in our ministries. Are people repenting and turning to Christ and are they growing in Spiritual maturity, which is measured by the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-26?

  13. Douglas Smith says:

    Here are some FACTS you can use as it relates to college and religion.

    Love Ms. Perry

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