Measuring Catholicity on Campus: A Comparative Example at Four Colleges

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More than 200 American colleges and universities call themselves Catholic. This affiliation contains surprising variability in its organizational and cultural manifestations, as well as its adherence to Church teachings and practices. Prospective students, parents, alumni, benefactors, accrediting agencies, and Church leaders all have an interest in gauging the effective “Catholicity” of an institution. However, there are no easy metrics to separate the most “orthodox” from the most secular, and public reputations are often misleading. This article suggests that one way to assess an institution is to go directly to the students with carefully designed surveys of religious beliefs and practices. The author describes one such effort that compares representative samples of Catholic students on four Catholic campuses. The results demonstrate that even fairly subtle differences in Catholicity among the institutions are empirically measurable and potentially useful. The recent history, benefits, and limitations of such benchmarking are also discussed.

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