As classes begin this month, a national student outreach organization says American colleges and universities are not allocating enough resources to help students make the adjustment to college life and to become moral and ethical leaders in society upon graduation.
As a result, Catholics must be proactive in providing young people with the right resources, support and formation on campuses, says the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The group, founded in 1998, currently offers Bible studies, leadership training, and mentoring on 29 secular and Catholic campuses in 15 states.
In a press release issued yesterday, FOCUS says college students today face a number of challenges, such as dealing with relationships, promiscuous sex, binge drinking, drug use, credit card debt, depression, and gambling. New students, especially, who are away from their parents for the first time in many cases are particularly vulnerable.
Studies seem to back up their claims. 56.5% of students told a recent Zogby International poll that they consider themselves, “sexually active.” And, according to the Alan Guttmacher institute, one in every five of the approximately 1,370,000 abortions occurring in the U.S. each year is performed on a college student.
Meanwhile the media is ripe with stories detailing the increase of depression and alcoholism problems on campuses. Some studies indicate that up to half of U.S. college students engage in the practice of binge drinking. The American College Health Association conducted a 2004 study in which 40 percent of college men and 50 percent of college women surveyed said they had experienced depression so severe at some point in time that they could “barely function;” 14.9 percent said they had been “medically diagnosed with clinical depression.” 60 percent of students surveyed reported “feeling things were hopeless” one or more times during the previous school year.
But while awareness of the issues themselves are finally gaining national attention, little is being done to address the roots of the problems, FOCUS says. “Where morals, ethics and leadership were once a focus of university education, students are now often left to find their own way amidst growing social pressures,” the press release reads.
“The emptiness many students feel is enormous and they are looking for something to fill it. They are looking for a happiness that only Jesus can give them, but they are looking in the wrong places,” Bridget Gill, a three year missionary for FOCUS, told CNA.
Gill said that during her time as a missionary at the University of Colorado there were even two deaths resulting directly from alcohol poisoning. She says that a few of the students who used to “party” with those who died began to question what their lives had become. They found their way into FOCUS Bible studies and the results, she said, have been life changing.
“They are not only encountering a community of people who support them, but they are gaining the necessary skills to cope with their daily problems and just to live more fulfilled lives. In addition to equipping them with “vision for life” (the organization’s motto) FOCUS has also helped to reconnect them to the Church. Even when they leave campus they’ll know they have a home in the universal Church.”
Such “vision for life” is exactly what FOCUS hopes to provide for students engaged in some of the most formative years of their lives.
Chris Kuetemeyer, Mission Development Director for FOCUS, told CNA that the organization conducted a study of college seniors involved in their program last year, “to determine if, with Christ’s help, we were delivering on our goals.” He said that, while some students join their program to continue the formation already provided by their parents and parishes, a majority grow by leaps and bounds through the program, responding overwhelmingly to the question as to whether FOCUS has, “prepared me to face the moral and ethical challenges I may face after graduation.”
Kuetemeyer also said that 84% of the seniors responded that their participation in FOCUS “deepened their understanding of Christ’s desire for their chastity, sobriety, and personal excellence.” 81% said they believe FOCUS, “helped me make better decisions regarding my personal relationships with others.”
“Universities house America’s most vital natural resource—our children, who are tomorrow’s leaders,” Curtis A. Martin, president of FOCUS, said. “In the past generation, universities have become very challenging, at times even corrosive, places. God has been removed from the classrooms and the campus. We know that our sons and daughters will make better decisions if the light of Christ helps to inform their choices.”
For more information on FOCUS see their website at www.focusonline.org.