By Monte Sahlin
The most recent Freshman Survey in the United States (from 2014) found that three-tenth of one percent of the students reported that their religious preference was Seventh-day Adventist. That is 0.3%. Only two of the listed religious categories at a smaller response: 0.2% each for LDS (Mormons) and Quakers. The largest responses were 27.5% who indicated "None" and 25.3% who selected Roman Catholic.
The most recent number available for the total number of Freshmen in all institutions in the nation is 2.2 million. (National Center for Education Statistics.) That means there were about 65,000 young adults who indicated that they are Adventists in the Freshmen cohort for the 2014-15 school year.
If this sample can be applied to the entire population enrolled in post-secondary education in the country (a total of 21 million), then there are more than 600,000 students who have an Adventist religious preference. According to the statistics on the denomination's North American Division Education web site, no more than 30,000 of these were enrolled in colleges and universities affiliated with the Adventist Church.
It is important to understand that "religious preference" is not the same thing as membership. And members do not all participate regularly. Research has shown that about 30% of Adventist Church members in North America only rarely or never attend on Sabbath, and this percentage is somewhat larger among young adults.
There is a hint of this generational differential in the data from the Freshman Survey. The incoming students were also asked the current religious preference of their parents. The response was 0.4% for both mothers and fathers. Compared to the 0.3% for the self-reported preference, this means that one out four students with Adventist parents do not prefer to be Adventists themselves or a generational dropout factor of roughly 25 percent. That is actually about half the rate found in Roger Dudley's longitudinal study of teenagers in Adventist families in the 1990s. (Institute for Church Ministry at Andrews University)
Is there some chance that the dropout rate among Adventist young adults is slowing down? Perhaps, but remember that Dudley's study followed a sample of young people from the time they were 15 and 16 to the time they were 25 and 26. The Freshman Survey sample is largely age 18 and 19. For these young adults it is too soon to know. Which also means you can still do something about it.
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