Melton, Brian

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Mormon college students may leave or delay their studies to serve missions for their church, typically for 18 to 24 months. This dissertation studies the impact of serving a mission on the spiritual development and psychological wellbeing of these students. Using a two-factor ANOVA fixed-effects, nonexperimental design, five measurement scales on spiritual development were assessed of males and females who served and had not served as Mormon missionaries. These measures were equanimity, ecumenical worldview, religious engagement, religious struggle, and spiritual quest. A sixth measurement scale was used to address psychological wellbeing. The 46-item survey was from the College Spiritual and Belief Values (CSBV) survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The survey was completed by 373 Mormon college students, 179 of whom had served missions. The survey participants were students from one of two universities, one a large public institution in Utah, and the other a small private university in Virginia. The study found that students who had served missions scored significantly better than those who had not. Responses from student participants who served missions indicated they feel more at peace, find greater meaning in personal hardships, and feel happier about the direction their life is heading. They are more accepting of other religious traditions, cultures, and values, and have a greater sense of connection with humanity. They are stronger in their own spiritual and religious beliefs, while at the same time view life itself as an ongoing process of finding purpose and meaning. These students also have a greater sense of emotional and psychological wellbeing. The study also found that for those who had not served missions, females tended to score better than their male counterparts in all six measures. Yet this gap disappeared for those who served missions. At the same time, once students returned to college after their missions, their levels of spiritual development and psychological wellbeing stabilized. However, care should be taken in assessing the impact of the time students had been back from their missions as only two of the six scales, religious engagement and religious struggle, were statistically significant. This study discusses how these findings relate to previous studies, especially those of Fowler (1981); Gilligan (1982); Astin, Astin, and Lindholm (2011b); and Welch and Koth (2013). The study provides recommendations based on these findings. These include the need to assist students in their own spiritual development, look closer at gender roles within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) faith, and examine how the larger higher education community beyond just the Mormon faith can support college student spiritual and emotional development through service opportunities.



Higher education, Higher education administration, Spirituality, College Student, Missionary Service, Mormon, Spiritual Development, Spirituality, Wellbeing