Gordon in the News: last updated 08/29/2011

Yes, a Christian College Education Is Worth It, Concludes New Study by Gordon Psychology Professor

August 20, 2011

Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communications

WENHAM, MA—In today’s academic and economic climates, new concerns about the value of a college education are emerging regularly. A new study, however, suggests that the integration of Christian values within a college experience ensures the successful well-being of graduates.

Kaye Cook, a professor of psychology at Gordon College, whose scholarship includes developmental transitions, gender issues, and moral and faith development, has led a four-year study examining demographic data and religiosity measures for Christian college alumni. The study, entitled “Is a Christian College Education ‘Worth It’? Worldview Development among Christian College Students as a Model for the Larger Academy,” explores what happens when students are given the freedom to ask bigger questions about values and mission and deeper meanings in life. Cook and her team of researchers interviewed almost 1,000 Christian college graduates from Gordon College and Wheaton College on subjects such as spiritual commitment, identity and well-being.

“We found that even four years after graduation, 97 percent of these alumni consider themselves moderately to extremely interested in religion, with 76 percent attending church at least once a week,” said Cook. “That means, those who entered a Christian college with a strong faith graduated four years later with a faith commitment intact—though one that had been tested and deepened. And we found that their education gave them a higher sense of life satisfaction and well-being, in part because they felt they had a worldview that enabled them to face life’s challenges.”

Cook, who is on the board of the international Association for Moral Education and was a recent visiting professor at Dartmouth College, said that because Christian liberal arts colleges are uniquely dedicated to worldview exploration and character development, students who attend them gain not only academic preparation for their careers, but values that guide their personal behavior. Both factors, according to numerous other nonreligious surveys, reflect what today’s young people say they desire from their college experience. Yet, today’s college students often experience a disorganized, piecemeal, even agnostic approach to higher education.

“Our results show that Christian colleges tend to nurture human flourishing and lead to spiritual growth,” she said. “Both of these factors produce greater opportunities for purposeful lives and successful work.”

Cook believes it is particularly noteworthy that religious faith improves overall well-being. She found that religious faith has multiple positive effects on daily life; it improves well-being by influencing one’s personal characteristics (identity) and relationships (attachment), and the choices one makes. Still, the benefits of faith seem to function differently for men and women, with women apparently having more of the benefits (e.g., greater orthodoxy), but also greater stress, according to Cook’s study. Nevertheless, both men and women appear to benefit from having a coherent worldview.

“One’s worldview, although it receives little attention in the (academic) literature, is conceptually intertwined with the other two measures of identity and attachment,” Cook said. “And the data show that Christian college graduates retain their faith to a striking degree. Consequently, Christian colleges can serve as a model for a context in which values and academic disciplines are taken seriously, and within which one can be encouraged to develop coherent values to secure success beyond college.”

Cook’s research team included study co-principal Cynthia Kimball, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College; Kathleen Leonard, visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell; Chris Boyatzis, professor of psychology at Bucknell University; and 16 Gordon College undergraduate students. The study was funded in part by an initiative grant from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).

For more information or to schedule an interview with Dr. Cook, please contact Jo Kadlecek, 978.867.4752. To read the study, click here.


Gordon College is a multidenominational Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston’s North Shore, offering majors in 38 fields with graduate programs in education and music education. Gordon is nationally recognized for excellence in academics and in character building, and ranks as one of the nation’s top Christian colleges. www.gordon.edu