Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts Launches National Study of Liberal Arts Education

February 7, 2005

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Crawfordsville, IN — The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College seeks institutions for participation in the National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a large-scale, longitudinal study to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of liberal arts education. The Center’s research will help faculty, staff, and administrators more effectively align educational programs and experiences to student learning and institutional missions. This is one of the most comprehensive national studies of the effects of American higher education on student learning and development ever conducted.

The study will explore not only whether and how much students develop because of their collegiate experiences, but also why and how this development takes place. This combination of purposes is distinctive. Few studies have focused simultaneously on how student learning changes over several years and on the key educational experiences that affect student learning and development.

"Despite a 2,000-year history, liberal arts education has rarely been the subject of serious research," says Charles Blaich, director of inquiries at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts.

Starting in fall 2005, researchers will work with selected institutions across the country—research universities, regional universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges—in preparation to launch the National Study with the entering class of 2006.

"We hope to follow approximately 7,000 students through their undergraduate and early post-college years," says Blaich. "We will collect student and institutional data at multiple points over the course of the study. Some of the questions we hope to answer are: ‘What experiences help students become liberally educated?’ ‘What institutional structures and programs foster liberal arts education?’ ‘When, and how, does liberal arts education promote student development?’"

The study focuses on the development of seven key outcomes of liberal arts education and the educational conditions and experiences that foster these outcomes. The selected outcomes include:

• Effective reasoning and problem solving

• Inclination to inquire and lifelong learning

• Integration of learning

• Intercultural effectiveness

• Leadership

• Moral character

• Well-being

All student participants will complete a series of surveys that gather information about their college experiences and measure the seven liberal arts outcomes. In addition, researchers will conduct interviews with a subset of students for in-depth reflection on their college experiences. The study will also include focus groups and interviews with faculty, staff, and administrators to collect data on institutional practices and conditions that support the development of our seven outcomes. This combination of data, gathered over time, will provide a comprehensive examination of liberal arts education at participating institutions.

"Not only will we be gathering useful information on the liberal arts, but there are also numerous benefits for participating institutions," adds Cherry Danielson, research fellow at the Center of Inquiry. "Institutions will collaborate with the National Study research team to use the study findings to improve student learning on their campuses, and enhance the educational impact of their programs."

College presidents, academic deans, and assessment officers interested in having their schools considered for participation should visit the Center of Inquiry website for additional information about the National Study and application forms:

Review of applications will begin on May 1, 2005.

Founded at Wabash College in 2000 through a $20.8 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts works to explore, test, and promote liberal arts education. The Center seeks to ensure that the nature and value of liberal arts education is widely understood and to reestablish the central place of the liberal arts in higher education.

For more information on the National Study or the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, please contact:

Cherry Danielson, Research Fellow

Phone: 765-361-6170

Charles F. Blaich, Director of Inquiries

Phone: 765-361-6331


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