The rising interest in people’s actual beliefs and behaviors led many people to reexamine their faith and to attempt to deal with the problems they saw in the church. Some of these reformers succeeded in their aims. Several new orders were founded to counter what they considered a softening of morality. The Cistercians emphasized austerity over glory. The Augustinians rejected the Benedictine Rule and founded their own communities based on the words of St. Augustine. The Franciscans (though not entirely purposefully founded as a religious order) found themselves serving the religious needs of growing cities.
[Jacobin Church in Toulouse, early 13th century, photographed by me]
All of these things contributed to the widespread founding of universities. Priests needed to be trained, not just to meet the demands of the laity for educated priests,** but also so that they could deal with ideas that the Church had declared heretical. This was also a time of increased interest in learning in general. The universities provided education, while their religious foundation allowed people to take part in the rising religious fervor of the age while keeping an eye on people whose ideas might otherwise become heretical.
*The phrase seems to have been coined by Gary Dickson in “Religious Enthusiasm in the Medieval West and the Second conversion of Europe” in Religious Enthusiasm.
**Though this was a major factor.
Cook, William R. and Ronald B Herzman. The Medieval Worldview: an Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Winks, Robin W. and Teofilo F. Ruiz. Medieval Europe and the World: From Late Antiquity to Modernity, 400-1500. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.