Most Catholic college students are inconsistent Catholics, study shows

Most Catholic college students are inconsistent Catholics, study shows


A new survey from the Cardinal Newman Society’s (CNS) Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education finds that most students on Catholic campuses show an inconsistent adherence to their Catholic faith and often reject sexual morality and Catholic teaching on abortion.

While about thirty percent of Catholic students surveyed reported that their faith had increased in their time on campus, slightly more than half reported no change and more than ten percent reported a decrease.

“A clear majority of respondents who were Catholic in college still report no impact or a negative effect on Catholic belief and practice,” the report states.

CNS commissioned QEV Analytics to conduct the survey, which claims a plus or minus 4.4 percent margin of error. The 506 respondents to the survey included 251 cur­rent students and 255 recent graduates or attendees under 30 years of age. Survey questions asked whether a respondent somewhat or strongly agreed or disagreed with a statement, but the report does not distinguish those who strongly agree or disagree from those who somewhat agree or disagree with a given statement.

About 58 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic today and also while they were students at Catholic colleges and universities. Six percent were Catholic in college, but are not now, while only one percent were not Catholic in college but are now. Another 29 percent were not Catholic in their last year of college and are not currently Catholic, the survey says.

The survey distinguished between current Catholics and those who were “sacramentally-active” Catholics during their college years, the latter defined as those who attend Mass at least weekly and participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year.  Respondents who were Catholics in college comprised 64 percent of all respondents, but only 48 percent could be categorized as sacramentally active.

About 64 percent of both Catholic groupings said they agreed that the fullness of God’s truth is found in the Catholic Church. Slightly more respondents, 67 percent of current Catholics and 69 percent of sacramentally-active Catholics, agreed that the communion bread and wine at Mass truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

In both groups, 61 percent agreed that women should be allowed to be ordained as Catholic priests.

Among all students at Catholic universities, 60 percent agreed that abortion should be legal, including about half of the Catholics. Similarly, 60 percent agreed that premarital sex “with someone you really care about” is not a sin, including slightly more than half of both Catholic groupings.

Further, 78 percent of all students disagreed that using a condom to prevent pregnancy is a serious sin, including 73 percent of current Catholics and 69 percent of the sacramentally active. Overall, about 57 percent agreed that same-sex marriage should be legal, including slightly more than half of current Catholics and slightly less than half of those sacramentally-active in college.

The survey also revealed significant statistics on moral behavior on Catholic campuses. About one in five students knew another student who had an abortion or had paid for one, while 46 percent reported engaging in premarital sex during their previous year at school.  More than one in four reported viewing pornography in their last school year, while about 30 percent regularly got drunk.

About 57 percent of Catholic students said attending a Catholic college or university had no effect on their participation in Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, while 13 percent reported a decrease and 30 percent reported an increase. Similar figures were reported concerning whether Catholic students’ time at school had affected their support for the teachings of the Catholic Church, and whether it had affected their respect for the Pope and the Bishops.

The survey also found that those who were sacramentally-active, prayed frequently or did not regularly view pornography received higher grades.   

The full survey, titled “Behaviors and Beliefs of Current and Recent Students at U.S. Catholic Colleges,” may be viewed at

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