Higher Education

From IDEALS to INSPIRES: Using Data to Advance Pluralism on Campus

A university professor addressing students during a lecture. (Tom Werner/Getty Images)

A university professor addressing students during a lecture. (Tom Werner/Getty Images)

Nearly a decade ago, Interfaith America (then Interfaith Youth Core) embarked on a first-of-its-kind research endeavor in partnership with Dr. Matthew Mayhew of The Ohio State University and Dr. Alyssa Rockenbach of North Carolina State University.

From 2015 to 2019, the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) examined students’ perceptions of – and engagement with – religious diversity throughout their college careers. This rigorous, mixed-methods study engaged thousands of students from more than 100 four-year colleges and universities across the United States and yielded robust findings relevant across the U.S. higher education landscape.

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Email the INSPIRES team and also visit the INSPIRES site to learn more.

IDEALS data have meaningfully informed Interfaith America’s work with campus partners since the study concluded in 2019. We lifted up research results in the 2020 national report, Bridging Religious Divides through Higher Education, and promoted recommended practices in our magazine with pieces such as Five Key Takeaways from IDEALS. Educators have learned how to leverage IDEALS data in their interfaith work through their participation in campus consultations, national conferences, the Institute on Interfaith Excellence (in partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities) and Interfaith America’s annual Interfaith Leadership Summit. Now, there is an exciting opportunity for interfaith leaders in higher education to engage with IDEALS in a new way.

The Interfaith, Spiritual, Religious, and Secular Campus Climate Index, or INSPIRES Index, is a groundbreaking assessment tool – integrally informed by IDEALS findings – that helps improve the campus climate for students with diverse religious, spiritual, and secular identities. It does so by measuring, evaluating, and representing an institution’s efforts toward establishing a welcoming climate for religious diversity. An institution’s INSPIRES results will highlight areas of strength and growth opportunities in seven key areas, including institutional policies, religious accommodations, space for support and expression, and extracurricular and academic engagement. They may also help prospective students and their families identify institutions that provide the resources and support they need to thrive in college.

“For most students, the notion of going to college encompasses feelings of excitement associated with accomplishment, new beginnings, and personal investment, but also comes with trepidation about finding community and being successful,” shared Mayhew, who leads the INSPIRES Index at Ohio State. “Equipping them with the knowledge INSPIRES can provide is part of the sacred process of building a community based on shared values and trust and aligning the college’s vision of itself with the student’s vision of self.”

The INSPIRES Index is open now through December 15 to any college or university that wishes to participate. If your campus has completed INSPIRES in the past, this is a great time to update your responses to the survey. Participation remains free for all institutions due to support from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Participating institutions will receive a tailored report in February 2024 that includes their scores alongside average scores for comparable institution types (like public, nonsectarian, religiously affiliated).

I think most higher education professionals want to offer environments that are welcoming to students of all belief systems, but knowing how to innovate policies, programs, and practices within the institution can sometimes be difficult if there are not clear assessment results and next steps that back up the need to change. My hope is that any institution that participates – no matter how welcoming their climate is right now – will engage in a great conversation about how to best support their students’ exploration and development of their spiritual, religious, and secular identities.

At Interfaith America, we are deeply committed to learning from and applying relevant research to advance pluralism on campus, as evidenced by our longstanding investment in IDEALS. As such, we are eager to help higher education leaders advance data-driven change by translating INSPIRES results into concrete action steps to make the collegiate environment more welcoming for all students. We offer an array of resources and tools that can help you turn your vision for religious diversity and interfaith cooperation into a reality. Additionally, campus grants are forthcoming specifically for institutions who partake in INSPIRES.



Explore this groundbreaking assessment tool.

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Learn more about Interfaith America’s related opportunities and resources.

Todd Green

Director of Campus Partnerships

Interfaith America