By Carolyn Diana

U.S. college students’ association with religion has hit a historical low and two leaders from religious student organizations at Western Michigan University agree, but only to an extent.

While there is not comprehensive data on WMU students’ involvement in faith groups, students and religious leaders on campus say that student involvement, although it may be lower, is dependent on the person. Student involvement can be hindered because parents are not at school with them to make them go to services or worship, or students don’t feel they have the time to go, say WMU students involved in faith organizations on campus.

Kanley Chapel

Kanley Chapel

According the 2014 study entitled, “The American Freshman: National Norms,” conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA, student affiliation with religion has hit a historic low. This data was based on responses from 153,00 first-time, full-time students who entered 227 four-year colleges and universities across the United States. The program’s study has consistently asked students to identify religious preference since 1971, and more students than ever are selecting “none.”

WMU junior Mikayla Wu, the president of Young Life, a college religious student organization, said the fluctuations in student involvement are very case-specific.

“I think it just depends on some people. I know a couple of people who are practicing their religion more now and I know some who just kind of backed away for a while and are trying to find their way back a little bit. I think it really depends on the person,” Wu said.

The absence of parents and guardians who have put focus on a spiritual life or faith in the family could lead students to abandon those practices once out of the house.

“I think it does decrease when people get into college. A lot of people go to church because their families go so once they get into college, it’s not like someone’s making you go…I think it depends on the person,” Wu, 20, said.

The Young Life RSO has an average of 50 members who attend weekly meetings, according to Wu. The non-profit group is focused on building a strong community of people from different religious backgrounds who come together to talk about their beliefs and engage in other activities.

WMU junior Sarah Hempsted is a member of “The 995,” a Christian non-denominational religious group. She sees the national trend in the decline of student religious affiliation happening at WMU as well.

“Personally, once I joined college, I don’t practice as much but we see a big decline during the school year especially. Religion is not (occupying) a big section of their day that they’re setting aside,” Hempsted said.

Hempsted, 20, believes that college students do not practice religion or associate with religion once entering college because on Sundays,  students usually want to sleep in or have other responsibilities such as work.

Clare Hickey, a senior at WMU, is an example of the statistics of the study’s data that states that fewer students are entering college with an affiliation with religion.

“I went to a Catholic high school and when I got to college I never kept up with it or went to church or anything. There was no school making me and also I didn’t believe what I used to in high school,” Hickey, 21, said.

Although data concludes that the numbers of college students affiliated with religion is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, some students have actually become more active in their faith since coming to college.

 

“Once I got to college I was really stressed and ended up going to church a lot more than I did at home. A lot of groups at school were really welcoming too but I don’t have a lot of time for them,” Maggie Lundy, senior at WMU, said.

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