The number of college freshmen with no religious affiliation has risen in the last 30 years.
According to a 2016 study by UCLA, 31 percent of college freshmen in 2016 said they have no religious affiliation, compared to 10 percent in 1986.
The results from the survey, which were from more than 137,000 first-time students at 184 U.S. colleges and universities, were reported by Scientific American in May.
“Not surprisingly, religious colleges are more religious, with only 17 percent Nones,” according to Scientific American.
A “None” is a person who claimed no religious affiliation.
Ryan Gardner, a religious education professor, said BYU-Idaho probably has one of the most faithfully-minded and religiously-active student bodies in the country. Even though students still have struggles, doubts and questions, they are still faithful and want to be disciples of Christ.
Gardner has done research with Harvard Divinity School on high schools that teach religious history courses. He said one of the reasons religiosity might be dropping in college freshmen is because they are becoming more exposed to and educated about other religions. This may lead to their being less sure about any religious faith.
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He said he went to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City in 2015. At the parliament, Gardner went to two panels where students from North Carolina and Texas shared their experiences with world religion classes.
These students, Gardner said, came from fundamental and evangelical Christian backgrounds. During the course of their classes, they learned about world religions and met people of other faiths from their communities.
Gardner said before taking the class, the students said they were sure Jesus Christ was the only way to be saved, but after meeting good people who did not believe in Jesus Christ, they were not so sure.
Jana Riess, a columnist for Religion News Service, said in a 2016 article, “Mormonism’s retention rate has been dropping, though not at the precipitous rates experienced by other groups.”
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According to Scientific American, the fraction of students who say they attend religious services “frequently” or “occasionally” has dropped from 85 percent to 69 percent since 1990.
Isobel Jensen, a freshman studying sociology, said she went through a phase where she thought going to church was kind of a pain. She said the only things that kept her coming were friends, church callings and the knowledge that her leaders loved her.
She said the different programs the Church has are great, but really it comes down to whether she felt other people even cared if she was there.
“Young adult Mormons show some signs of following the national trend,” Riess said. “When Pew surveyed this in 2014, 64 percent of all Latter-day Saints who were raised Mormon still self-identified as Mormon as adults.”
Gardner said one of the ways BYU-I is trying to strengthen students is through cornerstone classes, like the Foundations of the Restoration course.
He said he does not think students are aware why cornerstone classes are so important. All cornerstone classes are designed to meet the needs of college-aged young adults. He said students should minister and teach one another, as well as take the cornerstone classes.
Gardner said the Church has been putting out papers on more difficult topics, such as race and the priesthood. He said students should look at these papers, found on lds.org, to find answers to questions.
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