Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Applying Student Development Theory to College Students' Spiritual Beliefs

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Applying Student Development Theory to College Students' Spiritual Beliefs

Article excerpt

This qualitative study sought to explore college students' spiritual beliefs in order to examine those beliefs and subsequent college experiences using student development theory. Data analysis revealed that peer and mentoring relationships were instrumental to students and shaped how students made meaning of their academic and social experiences in college. In addition, the study found that students relied heavily upon various institutional agents for assistance in learning more about and developing their spiritual beliefs in college.

Whether it is a conscious decision or not, many college students will embark upon a voyage of self-discovery and development as they proceed through the undergraduate experience. According to Rodgers (1990), student development is defined as "the ways that a student grows, progresses, or increases his or her developmental capacities as a result of enrollment in an institution of higher education" (p. 27). Evans, Forney, and Guido-DiBrito (1998) posited that a student's development during college was contingent upon four major conditions. First, there had to be appropriate levels of challenge and support to facilitate the dissonance students experienced as they navigated the college environment. second, a student must be involved in the campus community. Third, issues of marginality and mattering must be resolved. Fourth, students must feel validated through a process of confirmation and support.

For most college students, attending college initiated the process of separation from familial values, beliefs, and traditions (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Thus, as college students explore their new surroundings, establish new friendships, question authority figures, and resolve identity crises, they come into a fuller understanding of who they are and what they believe about themselves, people, and the world around them. While there is significant concern for the fluctuating retention rate of first-year undergraduate students (Rraxton, Sullivan, & Johnson, 1997), researchers and scholars believe that institutions could promote successful outcomes by fostering academic communities that engage students in developmental activities both inside and outside of the classroom environment (Kuh, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 1991; Tinto, 1993).

There is, however, a noticeable void in the student development research literature regarding the ways in which student development theories can be used to expand our understanding of students' spiritual beliefs in college. While the issue of spirituality and faith development has been explored in the literature to some extent (Fowler, 1986; Jablonski, 2001; Parks, 2000), most of the research and discussion has focused on faith development in college students. However, what is missing from this literature base is an exploratory study that seeks to understand ways in which students' spiritual beliefs influence their development in college. Toward that end, the purpose of this study was to understand how students' cognitive and psychosocial development interacts with their faith development. Additionally, this study sought to assist student affairs professionals in conceptualizing the use of student development theory more broadly across areas that impact student development, but may not normally be considered within the scope of our primary responsibilities.

Theoretical Considerations

Advancing Erik Krikson's (1950, 1980) ground-breaking work on identity development, Chickering (1909) proposed and later Chickering and Reisser (1993) revised seven vectors (developing competence, managing emotions, moving through autonomy toward interdependence, developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, developing purpose, and developing integrity) to illustrate developmental issues that students encounter during the undergraduate experience and corresponding environmental conditions that influence developmental success. …

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