Many college students are not gaining the skill sets and knowledge they need to navigate a religiously diverse country, according to a new longitudinal study based on surveys of students across 122 campuses.
Less than a third (32 percent) of college students said they developed better skills to interact with people of diverse beliefs while in college, and nearly three-quarters of fourth-year students earned a grade of C or below on a short, standardized quiz testing their knowledge of eight different religious worldviews, the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) found. The survey was led by researchers at North Carolina State and Ohio State Universities and Interfaith Youth Corps, a nonprofit organization.
Researchers found that student participation in formal courses and activities that build interfaith skills is low and, in some cases, declined over students' college years. And while nearly three-quarters of students in college agreed with the statement that they dedicated time in college to learning about people of a different race or ethnicity (74 percent) or from a different country (73 percent), far lower percentages said they dedicated time to learning about people of different religions.
In addition to religious views, students were also surveyed about their attitudes toward a variety of identity groups, including political liberals and conservatives. The authors found, "with some exceptions," that positive attitudes toward politically liberal students generally increased while students were in college, while positive attitudes toward political conservative students increased during students' first year of college but declined to precollege levels thereafter.