WACO—Preliminary findings from a study of Baylor University students indicates seniors report reading the Bible more often and indicate stronger character than entering freshmen.
The study’s preliminary findings also indicate Baylor seniors and alumni have higher levels of Bible belief than new students.
At a Nov. 1 meeting, Baylor’s board of regents heard early findings from the Baylor Spirituality and Character Study, a longitudinal study to track the long-term impact of a Baylor education on a person’s faith and character.
Researchers leading the study are Kevin D. Dougherty, associate professor of sociology; Perry L. Glanzer, professor of educational foundations; and Sarah A. Schnitker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.
The initial survey of 3,369 first-year and 969 senior students, as well as 271 alumni who graduated 10 years ago, was conducted in fall 2018, with additional qualitative interviews of 42 first-year and 35 senior students.
The ongoing research project will continue to collect information each year about students’ faith and character from when they arrive at Baylor, when they graduate and a decade after graduation.
Researchers noted their conclusions are only preliminary, adding they will be able to provide more accurate comparisons when they have data from the same groups of students in their first year at Baylor and in their senior year.
Early findings from the study
Both entering freshmen and graduating seniors at Baylor are more religious than Americans in general. More than nine out of 10 new students and seniors (93 percent) identify with a religious tradition, and half (50 percent) of Baylor students attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Furthermore, new students and seniors reported high levels of being spiritually moved by nature, talking with others about their faith, their commitment to God, applying their faith to political and social issues and seeking opportunities to grow spiritually.
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About three-fourths (74 percent) alumni and more than two-thirds (69 percent) of seniors agreed the Bible is inspired by God, compared to 61 percent of new students.
One in three new students (31 percent) report reading the Bible at least once a week. That’s more than the general U.S. population (26 percent), but less than seniors (43 percent) or alumni (54 percent).
Character, purpose and meaning
Seniors also self-report stronger character than new students, giving themselves higher ratings on measures such as forgiveness of others, forgiveness of situations, gratitude, openness to revising one’s viewpoint and respect for others’ viewpoints. Seniors also displayed more curiosity, faith, judgment, love of learning, perseverance, prudence and wisdom.
When it comes to having purposeful lives, entering students and senior agreed. Eight in 10 seniors and new students report that their life is filled with meaning and purpose. However, in qualitative interviews, more than half of new students could not yet identify a purpose.
Baylor President Linda Livingstone said the long-term study will help the university better understand where students are in their faith, why they change, how they grow and what is most impactful during their time at Baylor. The study will help Baylor learn how the university can support their spiritual and character development, she said.
“It’s important for Baylor, as well as other faith-based colleges and universities, that we understand what most influences the spiritual and character development of young people while they’re in college,” Livingstone said. “We want to ensure this continues to be an important part of their life after college, and that Baylor continues to stay true to our Christian mission.”
Regents hear from LGBTQ students
At the same board meeting, regents continued discussion about how Baylor can “provide a loving caring community” for LGBTQ students, listening to a panel of three students from that segment of the student population. The board took no action regarding any policy change.
The university’s statement on human sexuality affirms “purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual acts outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.”
Baylor’s student conduct policy stipulates that the university “expects each Baylor student will conduct himself or herself in accordance with Christian principles as commonly perceived by Texas Baptists.”
Approving initial funds for welcome center
Also at the board meeting, regents approved $5 million for the first phase of design and fees for the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center. The total projected budget for the project is estimated to be $60 million. Construction could begin by summer 2020, with an anticipated opening in spring 2022.
Regents paid tribute to Mark Hurd, a 1979 Baylor graduate and Oracle CEO, who died Oct. 18. Hurd had served on the board of regents since 2014 and as vice chair since 2017.
“For the past five years, Mark Hurd served tirelessly and selflessly on the Baylor board of regents. He genuinely loved and cared for Baylor and contributed his time, strategic leadership and treasure to help achieve Baylor’s vision for the future as the preeminent Christian research university,” said Jerry Clements, chair of the board of regents.
“Our board greatly misses his presence, wisdom and leadership, and our thoughts, prayers and support continue to be with the Hurd family.”
The board also:
- Approved $8.6 million for the Baylor Basketball Pavilion Phase 1 and design, which includes programming space for the pavilion and basketball performance centers, project design fees, preconstruction services and development of a construction schedule. The total projected budget is $105 million. The 150,000-square-foot fieldhouse will have a seating capacity of 7,000 fans, in addition to practice and office facilities dedicated for both women’s and men’s basketball teams, along with shared sports performance facilities.
- Authorized $1.25 million for design and construction expenses for a fit-up of shared research lab space for mechanical engineering research in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative. The shared lab facility will accommodate up to five faculty researchers, including future hires with assignable, ready lab space for mechanical engineering faculty.
- Announced a $1.5 million gift from a current Baylor regent that will endow a faculty chair in biological and biomedical engineering under the university’s Baylor Academic Challenge matching program. The Mearse Endowed Chair in Biological and Biomedical Engineering was established by Bill and Tanya Mearse of Houston.
- Heard from a faculty panel who discussed the role of research at a Christian university. Larry Lyons, vice provost and dean of the Baylor Graduate School, moderated the panel. Participants were Beth Allison Barr, associate dean for student and faculty development in the Graduate School and associate professor of history; Byron Johnson, founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and distinguished professor of social sciences; Christopher Rios, associate dean of the Graduate School; and Annette von Jouanne, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Based on information provided by Lori W. Fogleman with the Baylor University office of media and public relations.