College Transition Initiative

Welcome to the blog of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding’s (CPYU) College Transition Initiative (CTI). This site contains commentary on transitional issues, exploring research, trends and college student culture. For more information visit:

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Location: Elizabethtown, PA, United States

The transition from high school to college is a difficult one, and yet, it is a transition that is often overlooked. This site is to help college bound students, parents, and youth workers stay up to date on the latest research and trends in regards to college transition. Your comments are greatly appreciated. Join the conversation!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Okay, I'm turning it up a notch...

Please join the College Transition Initiative group on Facebook.

It is a much easier way to post information about CTI and to dialogue with others about this issue.

Sorry to all my blogger friends... but my blogging days appear to be over!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

College Doesn't Turn Kids Secular?

The following response is from Tim Gebhart, Assistant Director of Wilderness Ministry at Ohio Wesleyan University. Before coming to Ohio Wesleyan, Mr. Gebhart reached out to students at Slippery Rock University.

Tim Gebhart writes:

The message that “College doesn’t turn kids secular” caused me to look at things from a different perspective than I usually do. In the CCO we often focus on Steve Garber’s The Fabric of Faithfulness, that Barna Group survey, and other sources that tell us, correctly, how habits formed in college are likely to remain for life.

What about habits formed during high school? In an interview, Mark Regnerus makes the claim that “most of the seeds for ‘secularization’ are planted well before college, but it’s only during college that the diminished participation in organized religion emerges and becomes evident.” A major cause of this “secularization” is the shoddy faith foundations of many teens (and their parents).

I have seen numerous examples that support Regnerus’ statement: High school students I have known whose parents forced them to go to church, and who kept them from alcohol and the whole party scene that comes with it but never gave reasons for these rules. The kids graduated from high school and went off to college. While at college they never went to church. In fact, most Sunday mornings they were still drunk from the night before. There was no sudden change in beliefs. These students did not get secularized by the atmosphere in their college town. While in high school (if not before) they decided that they didn’t want to have anything to do with church, and that alcohol and partying looked like a lot of fun. The college experience didn’t change their minds, but it did give them opportunities to do these things.

While college students do form long-lasting lifestyle patterns, they do not come to college as empty vessels or unshaped masses. College is a time when patterns are set in stone, but many of these patterns have been established long before. Looked at in this light, our role as campus ministers is to guide students to see the positive and negative patterns in their own lives, to reinforce the positive, and to alter the negative.

Too often, as Christian Smith says in his interview, students “can’t explain . . . what’s behind their thinking.” These students don’t know how to practice deep soul-searching or self examination. Their worldviews are made up of assumptions that they don’t even realize they are assuming. This is one place that we as campus ministers need to step in to guide these students in rediscovering the teachings of Jesus.

Many students have no solid answers to questions such as ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ or ‘Why do you go to church?’ When confronted with these questions, students are either going to give in to their friends, the askers of the above questions, or they are going to examine the beliefs they’ve inherited from their parents, and make them truly their own. As Garber and the Barna Group assure us, whichever way students go, they are likely to continue in that direction for their whole lives. As campus ministers, we need to spend time with these students to teach them incarnationally that the gospel of Christ is true and meaningful in their lives. We need to live our lives as examples to our students, realizing that we aren’t perfect, but still we can demonstrate a consistent, faithful lifestyle based on the gospel. Also it’s our role to ask students hard questions in a safe context, a place where they can say “I don’t know,” and we can help them to discover solid answers that will hold up in the classroom and at the frat party – or in the dorm as they are deciding whether to go to the frat party.

Students often come to college with thoroughly unexamined beliefs. After they graduate, they will be much less likely to change their beliefs. This makes the college years a crucial time to correct and fine tune beliefs and lifestyle choices.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Campus Ministers Respond to Research on Today's College Students

The first response to the assignment comes from Patrick Emery. Mr. Emery works for Geneva College's Pisgah Program, an adventure-based ministry that seeks to serve both the community and college students.

What I Learned and Why It Matters

Point #1: Most teens cannot articulate their faith and how it intersects with the rest of their lives.

No wonder teenagers are leaving the faith at an alarming rate. If we fail to teach them how to do this, why on earth should they continue to follow Christ of their own volition? Over and over in the Old Testament Law, God commands the Israelites to raise their kids in the fear of the Lord. The heart of the book of Proverbs is this very point: to learn wisdom and help train children to integrate faith into every part of life.

We have to start teaching our students how to connect their faith into every aspect of life, not only because faith has to work in order to keep believing, but mainly because integration of faith and life is crucial to what Christianity actually is.

Point #2: The majority of American teens hold to “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

I whole-heartedly agree with this assessment. This is being both taught and modeled in our churches all over America, whether it’s on purpose or not. When I graduated from high school, nearly everyone in my circle of influence (which was nearly all professing-Christian) told me they just wanted me to be happy and/or go to college so that I could get a good job (a.k.a. make lots of money). This mind-set is found nowhere in Scripture. What we find there is the exact opposite. Christ calls us to follow Him and take up the cross daily, and according to Him, difficulty is inherent in the cross.

This matters because we as campus ministers have the power to help change this thinking. The students we minister to every day will very soon be the body of the Church. Changing the way they think will in turn allow us to impact the churches that they begin attending after they graduate.

Point #3: Teens reflect the world more than they rebel against it.

I was a bit surprised by this point, though it certainly makes sense. After hearing so many people say that teens are rebellious, you sort of just start accepting it without checking to see if it’s actually true or not.

We need to change our assumptions about who teens are and where they are coming from. If we believe they are rebellious as opposed to reflective, that will have a big impact on the way we interact with and minister to them.

What I will do differently

First, I need to realize that college freshmen are coming from a different place than I came from. Teen culture has changed quite a bit in 10 years. I also need to do my part in learning more about what they believe and how that impacts their worldview. Second, I need to meet them where they’re at. They can’t change until their wrong thinking is exposed. Finally, I need to embrace my calling as a campus minister and rise up to the challenge of being God’s mouthpiece. I want to be open and available for God to use me to draw them to true faith in Christ.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

College Students in America: Campus Ministers Respond to NEW Research

I am currently teaching a year long learning module called “Working with First Year Students” for campus ministers and youth workers who work for the CCO. We are “painting a portrait” of college students in America to determine how we can best minister to them. The first assignment was to read a collection of articles and write a brief response. Here are the articles:

Why College Doesn’t Turn Kids Secular (an interview with Mark D. Regnerus based on his research How Corrosive Is College to Religious Faith and Practice?)

What American Teenagers Believe (an interview with Christian Smith based on his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers)

Young Adults Aren’t Sticking with Church (a USAToday report on LifeWay Research)

For the next several posts, I am going to be posting some of the reflections from the learning module. Many of the participants are working with college students on a regular basis. Their reflections should help us to (1) determine how accurate these studies have been and (2) think more deeply about developing better youth/campus ministry practices that will connect with today’s young college students.


If you know of youth workers or campus ministers who might be interested in learning what others have to say about the state of today’s college students, please let them know that they can subscribe to this blog on the left (Keep it Fresh).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fuller Research: College Transition Project

The Center for Youth & Family Ministry (CYFM) at Fuller Theological Seminary is trying to better understand the characteristics of youth groups that are associated with a healthy transition to college life and help youth workers develop those qualities in their youth groups. Currently, CYFM is engaged in two 3-year longitudinal studies with over 350 students from around the U.S. with the goals of understanding the dynamics involved in the transition to college life and discovering what components of students' youth group experiences helped them make that transition. Eventually, this research will be translated into resources that youth ministries can use to help students and families better navigate the transition to college. Periodically, CYFM reports on their research and offers reflections on some of the implications for youth workers. The latest article is very helpful. You Make the Call: What College Freshmen Need to Hear from their Youth Pastors, explains how making a simple phone call to college students can go a long way. The article also reports on some of the other findings from the study. This article is well worth the read and will hopefully make the rounds in youth ministry circles. In my humble opinion, CYFM's College Transition Project is the most important study being conducted on transitional issues. I can't wait to see the end result of this study in the next three years!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Death by Blog Boredom

I have been tagged by my good friend Bob Robinson on his blog Vanguard Church. He had been tagged by people who are trying to discover "five little-known treasures of the blogosphere in order to put to death our blog boredom." It was a nice surprise to be recognized on Mr. Robinson's blog. Thank you, thank you.

Now I am supposed to list five more "little-known treasures." Here's my problem: I don't really know what blogs are "little known." So, I will simply list the five blogs I read most often.

Hearts & Minds Booknotes
Walt Mueller's Blog (I think I would be fired if I didn't mention this one.)
Gideon Strauss
Vanguard Church (does that count?)

Monday, October 22, 2007

What Does God Want for Our Kids?

This past weekend, the Intelligencer Journal, a Lancaster paper, featured an article about the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Written by Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evan, the article describes the work of CPYU and why, as a mother, she appreciates the ministry.

You can read the article here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

College Video

Video connected to new website that seeks to help students get connected to campus ministries before heading to college.