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Enhancing Classrooms and Conversations: How Interactions with Faculty Predict Change in Students' Spirituality in College

  • Author(s): Piehl, Tiffani Alexandra
  • Advisor(s): Sax, Linda J
  • et al.

Over the past ten years, colleges and universities have faced criticism for an apparent shift away from their historic mission to educate whole students and toward an increasing focus on students as consumers and the training of students for their future careers. These criticisms have suggested that the shift in mission has diminished the academy's ability to address affective development outcomes such as citizenship, care for others, and the inner self. Affective characteristics such as these play an important role in developing students' emotional and physical well-being, improving academic performance, and strengthening social justice outcomes. To address these issues, some have proposed a return to a more holistic model on campus and, specifically, have identified an emphasis on spiritual development as one way to bolster these affective outcomes.

The purpose of this study was to examine how students' spiritual development in college is influenced by student-faculty interactions, both in and out of the classroom. Drawing from spiritual development theories, college impact models, and extant literature, the study presents a comprehensive definition of spirituality in college. Three aspects of this definition, namely meaning making, spirituality as a quest, and a moral care for others, are the focus of the analysis for the study. Using a set of national longitudinal surveys administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), with responses from students in their first (2004) and third (2007) years of college, the study uses blocked, stepwise, regression to inform the relationship between student-faculty interactions and spirituality outcomes.

The conclusions from this study suggest that faculty members' interactions with students, both in and out of class, are related to students' spiritual growth in college. Specifically, as faculty incorporate spiritual and developmental teaching methods in the classroom and inquire about students' inner-lives during informal interactions, students tend to demonstrate greater gains in their ability to make meaning of their lives, pursue spirituality as a quest more frequently, and develop a greater moral care for others while in college. In light of these findings, the study offers implications for faculty and student affairs staff and suggestions for future research.

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