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Posted February 12, 2007

Study finds alumni value Catholic college experience

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Alumni of Catholic colleges and universities rank their education and the values they learned in those institutions far more highly than alumni of major public universities do, education researcher Jim Day told a national gathering of Catholic college and university presidents Feb. 4.

The alumni of Catholic schools were considerably more likely than their public university counterparts to say they benefited from opportunities for spiritual development in their college years, experienced an integration of values and ethics in classroom discussions and were helped to develop moral principles that can guide actions, he reported.

Day presented findings of his study, based on extensive telephone surveys over the past several years of more than 2,000 alumni of Catholic colleges and universities, flagship public universities, and church-affiliated and not-church-affiliated private institutions of higher learning, at the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Of those surveyed, 308 were alumni of institutions that belong to the National Catholic College Admission Association. That organization, an association of most U.S. Catholic colleges and universities, commissioned that segment of the research.

Day is one of the principals of Hardwick-Day, a firm in Bloomington, Minn., that specializes in consultation and research for private higher education.

He said the term "flagship public universities" used in the study refers to the 147 public institutions that U.S. News and World Report identified in 1999 as "national universities."

While only 53 percent of the public university alumni agreed that there was a sense of community among the students in their schools, 82 percent of those who graduated from Catholic institutions felt that way. Among other church-affiliated and unaffiliated private institutions, the numbers were 84 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

Alumni of Catholic institutions were almost three times as likely as those from the public universities -- 75 percent versus 27 percent -- to say that they experienced an integration of values and ethics in classroom discussions. The figures were 70 percent for other church-affiliated schools and 47 percent for unaffiliated private schools.

Did college help them integrate faith with other aspects of life? Among alumni of Catholic schools, 57 percent agreed; other church-affiliated, 60 percent; unaffiliated private, 25 percent; and public, 12 percent.

Fifty-two percent of alumni of Catholic institutions said they "benefited very much" from the opportunities their college offered for spiritual development. The figure was similar for other church-affiliated schools, 51 percent, but it dropped to 16 percent for other private institutions and 7 percent for the public institutions.

Among Catholics who attended Catholic institutions 58 percent said they benefitted very much from the spiritual development opportunities offered. Only 34 percent of Catholics who attended other church-affiliated schools said the same.

A higher percentage of those who attended Catholic institutions were primarily responsible for their own tuition than were those who attended other types of institutions, and more at the Catholic schools had taken out loans to attend college.

While just under half of those who graduated from the public institutions said they got their degree in four years or less, about three-fourths of those in the other three groups did so. But only 32 percent of the alumni of Catholic institutions had gone on for graduate degrees, compared with 35 percent from other church-affiliated schools, 42 percent from other private schools and 28 percent from public universities.

For all four groups, the researchers obtained random samples of alumni who graduated between 1970 and 1999. Day told Catholic News Service that the data were tested to see if length of time since graduation affected people's assessment of the character and quality of their educational experience, and it was found not to be a factor.

He said the research indicated that Catholic institutions are "performing very well in terms of their mission" by not only educating students for jobs and careers but also helping them grow in faith and values and leading them to become active in the church after graduation.

Among just the Catholic alumni in all four groups, 54 percent who attended Catholic institutions said they learned more about their faith while in college. That dropped to 35 percent among Catholics who attended other church-affiliated schools and 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively, for those who attended public or other private schools.

Among the Catholic alumni, 66 percent of those who went to Catholic institutions said college helped them integrate faith with other aspects of life; only 33 percent said the same of their experience at other church-affiliated institutions; that dropped to 19 percent and 15 percent, respectively, at the other private and the public institutions.

When Catholic alumni were asked how effectively their college had helped them develop moral principles that can guide their actions, 85 percent of those who attended a Catholic institution ranked it four or five on a one-to-five scale ranging from "not at all effective" to "extremely effective"; 71 percent said the same for other church-affiliated schools; 53 percent for other private schools; and 38 percent for the public universities.

Nearly four-fifths of Catholic alumni who attended a Catholic or other church-affiliated school said they were involved in church-related volunteer work; among those who attended public or other private schools, fewer than two-thirds did such volunteer work.

With a sample of 308 surveyed among alumni of Catholic institutions, the margin of error was plus or minus 5.7 percent. The size of the other samples ranged from 530 to 614, for a margin of error ranging from 4 percent to 4.3 percent.