Rick Santorum has lamented in recent public appearances that Americans are losing their religion by going to college. Asked to defend his charge that President Obama is a “snob” for wanting all Americans to engage in higher education, Santorum repeated the claim Sunday on ABC’s This Week, declaring that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.” He’s invoked the same figure before.
A slight problem: multiple studies have found that the opposite is true — including the one that Santorum has reportedly been referring to.
A study published 2007 in the journal Social Forces — which PBS reports that Santorum’s claim is based on, although his spokesman didn’t respond to TPM’s request for confirmation — finds that Americans who don’t go to college experience a steeper decline in their religiosity than those who do.
“Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans,” the journal concluded, noting that “64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits. Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.”
Or Santorum may have been referring to a 2006 Harvard study in which 62 percent of college Republicans said “religion is losing its influence on American life.”
But that study negates Santorum’s larger point: It found that “a quarter of students (25%) say they have become more spiritual since entering college, as opposed to only seven percent (7%) who say they have become less spiritual.”
And there’s more evidence that Santorum has it backward. According to a 2011 study in The Review of Religious Research, the impacts of education on religiosity are complicated, but on balance it concluded that “education positively affects religious participation, devotional activities, and emphasizing the importance of religion in daily life.”
TPM has reached out to team Santorum to check whether there is other evidence to substantiate his claim. We’ll keep you updated.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.