Master of Arts in Higher Education (MAHE) Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Tim Herrmann

Second Advisor

C. Skip Trudeau

Third Advisor

Stephen Bedi


During four critical years in college, students ask big questions and form a stronger sense of identity, purpose, and personal conviction. Recent studies in the area of college student spirituality have indicated that, while college students have an increased interest in spirituality, many students experience spiritual struggle during these formative years. These questions and uncertainties about identity and spirituality arise even at faith-based institutions. In fact, some research (Bryant & Astin, 2008) has found that students at faith-based institutions are actually more likely to experience spiritual struggle during the college years than their peers at other institutional types, for reasons not previously researched. The current qualitative study examined factors that contribute to spiritual struggle within a faith-based institution, the experience of students experiencing struggle within a faith-based institution, and the institutional elements that support or challenge students during this developmental “crisis.” Six themes emerged from the individual interviews conducted at a small, Midwest, faith-based institution. Students experiencing spiritual struggle entered college with strong religious upbringing, which had shaped their spiritual paradigm and framework. Various factors during the college experience created dissonance and led the participants to reexamine a framework that seemed inadequate or incomplete to address new questions and ambiguities. During the time of spiritual struggle, the students experienced frustration towards the religious climate on campus. Students kept their struggle private from most individuals and forums on campus, despite their belief in the campus community’s openness and acceptance of spiritual struggle. Faculty and staff members played a vital role in supporting and challenging students during times of spiritual struggle. The study formulated implications for educators at faith-based institutions who desire to create an environment in which students can wrestle with questions and ideas and grow in spiritual and intellectual maturity.