Does going to a secular college drive students away from Christian faith? According to one study, the answer is a solid “No.” See FactChecker: Does College Cause Young Adults to Lose Their Faith? on The Gospel Coalition blog.
Among recently surveyed college students, 2.7 times more report that their religious beliefs have strengthened during their college experience than say their beliefs weakened.
My own faith was greatly strengthened as I went through college and graduate school, and I know a number of people who had the same experience. The Gospel Coalition article gives three potential reasons why many students have their faith strengthened while at secular colleges and universities:
1) The increase in presence and effectiveness of campus-based ministries like Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and Young Life.
2) The increase of relativism and the decline of strict scientism, which allows for discussion of faith and spiritual speculation, similar to what Paul experienced at the Aeropagus.
3) An increase in committed evangelical and Catholic faculty at secular universities in America who can serve as an encouragement and balance for Christian students.
I would suggest a fourth reason: Christian students at secular universities have interacted with non-Christians and their ideas, and have had to work through issues in the real world rather than in the insulated environment of a Christian university. For many Christian students, facing these challenges has strengthened their faith.
I am curious as to how Christian students who attend secular universities compare in the long run to those who attend rigidly young-Earth schools, such as those listed on Answers in Genesis’ Creation Colleges page.
Grace and Peace
P.S. One of my children graduated from a fine Christian college a year ago (Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia), and has a good foundation for a lifetime of faith and service. Two of my children are currently attending a state university, and are growing in their Christian faith in many ways that didn’t occur in the home or in youth group in high school. Both are active in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.