Master of Arts in Higher Education Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Tim Herrmann

Second Advisor

Scott Gaier

Third Advisor

C. Skip Trudeau


Part of a larger, multi-faceted research project, this study looked at the expectations of spiritual growth among college freshmen and the experiences of spiritual growth among college seniors through a qualitative modified grounded theory approach in an effort to answer the question, “What elements of the college experience are most influential in facilitating students’ expectations and realizations of spiritual growth?” Eighty-four freshmen and 171 senior essays were collected at a small faith-based liberal arts institution in the Mid-west. Results from the study suggest that students’ expectations play a significant role in their experiences of spiritual development. Freshmen students’ indicated a desire to grow deeper in their relationship with God, make their faith their own, grow in their knowledge of faith, and live out their faith in community with others with similar beliefs. The study found that these expectations closely paralleled seniors’ expressed experiences of growth. Perceived contributors of the college environment influencing this growth included the example of how others lived their lives, the challenge and diversity of opinions encountered in the classroom as well as through study abroad opportunities, and the physical and programmed spaces on campus designated for spiritual growth. Seemingly lacking in the results of this study was the influence of individual mentors, leadership experiences, and the diversity of other faith traditions.