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New Study Confirms Crisis in Catholic Higher Education

February 3rd, 2010
Cardinal Newman Society (

'Catholics should be alarmed by the significant declines in Catholic practice and fidelity at many of America’s Catholic institutions.'

MANNASSAS, VA (Cardinal Newman Society) - Attending a Catholic college has minimal impact on a Catholic student’s practice and embrace of the Catholic faith, according to a new study released Sunday at a gathering of Catholic college presidents in Washington, D.C.

The study was presented to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

“Catholics should be alarmed by the significant declines in Catholic practice and fidelity at many of America’s Catholic institutions,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “Everyone expects a Catholic college to be markedly different from a secular one. Students should be inspired to embrace and deepen their Catholic faith, not negotiate around Catholic moral teaching.”

The CARA study largely confirms a 2003 study released by The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), which found significant declines in students’ support for Catholic moral teaching on abortion, marriage and sexuality after four years at a Catholic college or university. The declines were generally greater at non-Catholic private and public institutions.

According to the CARA report, 16 percent of students at Catholic colleges and universities become more pro-life and more convinced of traditional marriage, whereas 31 percent become more supportive of legal abortion and 39 percent embrace same-sex “marriage.” Only seven percent increase attendance at religious services, while 32 percent reduce attendance. Eight percent of Catholic students leave the Catholic faith while attending a Catholic institution.

But CARA researchers went a step further, considering the potential impact of a variety of demographic factors on students’ support for Catholic teaching. They found that attendance at a Catholic college has no statistically significant effect on a variety of measures, including students’ support for abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage. Students report some improvement in attending religious services (not necessarily Catholic), reading about religion and spirituality (not necessarily Catholic) and deeming it “important to improve the human condition”—a concern that is presumably shared outside the Catholic faith.

Commenting on the study to, ACCU president Richard Yanikoski argued that the loss of faith at Catholic colleges and elsewhere reflects societal trends. Despite CARA’s analysis showing that the choice of a Catholic college has little significant impact on a student’s faith practice and beliefs, Yanikoski pointed to the raw data indicating that “a typical Catholic undergraduate student attending a Catholic college or university emerges more spiritually intact than if she or he had attended a public or secular private institution, but not nearly as spiritually active as would have been the case a few decades ago.”

“That’s hardly something to celebrate,” Reilly said. “If the ACCU thinks it a happy fact that Catholics lose their faith somewhat slower at Catholic colleges than elsewhere, then they fail to appreciate the concerns of faithful Catholic families.”

In the CARA report (found at, authors Mark Gray and Melissa Cidade state their agreement with The Cardinal Newman Society’s assertion in its 2003 report: “Regardless of where students begin their college journey, Catholic colleges should be helping students move closer to Christ, and certainly doing a better job of moving students toward the Catholic faith than secular colleges do.”

In October 2008, The Cardinal Newman Society published a comprehensive study of practices and beliefs of current and recent students at Catholic colleges and universities. The study, conducted by the reputable Washington, D.C., polling firm QEV Analytics, found that:

Nearly 1 in 5 respondents knew another student who had or paid for an abortion.
* 46% of current and recent students—and 50% of females—said they engaged in sex outside of marriage.
* 84% said they had friends who engaged in premarital sex.
* 60% agreed strongly or somewhat that abortion should be legal.
* 60% agreed strongly or somewhat that premarital sex is not a sin.
* 78% disagreed strongly or somewhat that using a condom to prevent pregnancy was a serious sin.
* 57% agreed strongly or somewhat that same-sex “marriage” should be legal.
* 57% said the experience of attending a Catholic college or university had no effect on their participation in Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation.
* 54% of respondents said that their experience of attending a Catholic college or university had no effect on their support for the teachings of the Catholic Church.
* 56% said their experience had no effect on their respect for the Pope and bishops.

Both the 2008 and the 2003 CNS reports can be found at

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