Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Rick Santorum's response to the SOTU speech included this gem:

It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs at American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America — and it is indoctrination...As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it. And I bet you there are people in this room who give money to colleges and universities who are undermining the very principles of our country every single day by indoctrinating kids in left-wing ideology. And you continue to give to these colleges and universities. Let me have a suggestion: Stop it!

He doesn't cite any evidence for that 62% figure, but I'm willing to believe that, once upon a time, someone did a survey of "faith convictions" of incoming freshmen versus graduating seniors. The real question is, did anyone do a comparable survey of entering freshman-aged non-college attenders and graduating senior-aged non-college attenders? An entering college freshman is typically 17-18 years old. A graduating senior is typically 21-22 years old. It is a critical transition time, from being a teenager to a young adult, from being your parents' child to being your own person, from dependence to independence. How many teenagers with a faith conviction become young adults without one, regardless of their educational experience? Without that information, that 62% is notstatistics.


  1. Here's evidence: a thorough study of changing student attitudes in college and professorial influence that shows.... nothing. If anything, they move away from us.

  2. That gave me serious flashbacks! I remember when there was talk of an "academic freedom" bill in my state, defined as the freedom of conservative students to get any professor they didn't like fired. The discussion in the department meeting came down to, 'no one is going to tell you how to teach your class, but be aware that you may be being watched.' Very creepy.

    I agree that this is a very similar issue, but not quite identical. Political attitudes are, in some ways, more specific than religious ones. You wouldn't expect most science courses to challenge political views in the same ways that they do religious ones. Studying political history doesn't challenge the truth of your convictions on contemporary politics, but learning about the mutability of religious beliefs and practices over time does challenge the notion of an unchanging, universal, spiritual truth. Issues of what is good or moral crop up all over the curriculum, far more so than political relevance.

    So maybe he's right. But then, maybe he's not. The studies you cite are a good indication of whether a college education has a direct impact on religious faith, and based on those studies he's probably wrong. Which is why, if he's going to make the argument he does, he needs direct evidence on that exact subject, and I want to see it.