Amidst protests and anti-war demonstrations, the Iraq War began in March of 2003. With twenty-four hour news channels and new communication technologies, images and videos of the war were quickly and widely circulated. Around the same time, a deadly respiratory disease (SARS) was spreading across the globe, challenging medical professionals and health organizations to quickly identify and contain it. Concerns about SARS had worldwide impact, including the last-minute relocation of the Women’s Soccer World Cup. In addition, notable events in space flight—the tragic loss of the Columbia Space Shuttle and China’s successful launch of a human—marked new eras in human exploration.
This year also proved pivotal for higher education, as the Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger cases were heard and decided by the United States Supreme Court. Though the University of Michigan’s process of admitting undergraduates was ruled unconstitutional in Gratz, the consideration of race in higher education was upheld in Grutter. While the Court would reconsider affirmative action less than ten years later with the Fisher v. University of Texas, the Gratz and Grutter cases continue to serve as guiding precedent for using race in college admissions. Research from the Higher Education, including recent publications by Jayakumar (2015) and Hurtado and Ruiz Alvarado (2015), continue to inform policy makers, courts, and higher education communities about the value of diversity. At the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), 2003 saw the launch of the Spirituality in Higher Education study, a seven-year study that examined the role college plays in facilitating the development of students’ spiritual qualities. The study was co-led by Alexander and the late Lena Astin, who passed away in October 2015.
During the spring of 2003, the College Students’ Beliefs and Values (CSBV) Pilot Survey was administered to 3,700 college juniors from 46 baccalaureate colleges and universities, all of whom had participated in the fall 2000 Freshman Survey. The instrument contained approximately 150 items pertaining to spirituality and religion, providing researchers an opportunity to measure and understand students’ spiritual qualities and development in college. From this pilot survey, the CSBV was modified and released for full administration the following year, during which more than 110,000 entering first-year students from 236 baccalaureate institutions participated.
In a 2003 New York Times story, Alexander Astin stated “If we just teach students how to make money or become rich and famous we are not fulfilling our responsibility as educational institutions.” To understand students’ personal and spiritual development in college, items from the CSBV Pilot helped inform various questions that were integrated into the full 2003 Freshman Survey. For example, the 2003 TFS included questions about the extent to which students were searching for the meaning/purpose in life, engaging in self-reflection, and being honest in their relationships with others. Similarly, the 2003 instrument asked students to rate their religiousness, and provide their best guess that they would strengthen their religious views/beliefs while in college.
Results from the 2003 TFS show that 34.6% felt that they were searching for mission/purpose in life to a great extent. Female students were more likely to report they were searching for a mission and purpose in life to a great extent compared to their male peers (36.0% v. 33.0%). Similarly, students whose first language was something other than English felt more strongly that they were searching for mission and purpose in life, as were students attending college in the South. When asked if they were engaging in self-reflection—which 26.3% of students reported doing to a great extent—students at private universities were most likely to indicate they did so to a great extent (33.6%) compared to 26.0% of students at public universities and 24.9% of students at Catholic, four-year colleges. Students from the lowest income brackets (<$20k) were slightly more likely to engage in self-reflection (30.6% v. 27.9%) than their peers from families making more than $150k,though first-generation students were less likely to do so compared to their peers whose parents attended college (24.4% v. 26.8%).
The year 2003 was an end of an era in two notable ways. First, the 2003 TFS Monograph was the final one published with Alexander Astin as Director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). Having served as HERI’s Founding Director since its inception in 1973, HERI would soon welcome a new director ahead of the TFS administration the following year. Also, 2003 marked the passing of Clark Kerr, one of the nation’s most influential higher education leaders, having served as Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, president of the University of California system, and the head of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.
Did You Know?
57.2% visited an art gallery or museum in the past year
71.2% thought there was a very good chance they would develop close friendships with other students
34.5% agreed that people should not obey laws which violate their personal values
4.0% thought there was at least some chance they would drop out of college
37.6% reported a visit to campus was very important in choosing which college to attend