Wabash Launches National Study of Liberal Arts Education

by Jim Amidon

February 3, 2006

The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College announces the launch of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. This four-year, multi-million dollar program is one of the most comprehensive national studies of the effects of American higher education. The study will focus on the impact of liberal arts education, exploring how students develop during their college years and how key educational experiences promote this development.

Researchers from the Wabash College Center of Inquiry, the University of Iowa, Miami University (Ohio), and the University of Michigan, in collaboration with ACT Inc., are working with 18 institutions from across the country on the Wabash National Study. These colleges and universities represent both private and public institutions; include religiously affiliated, single-sex, and minority-serving schools; exhibit a broad range of selectivity and tuition costs; and contain wide geographic variety. Characterizing the diversity present in higher education today, the group consists of liberal arts colleges, regional universities, research universities, and community colleges.

The participating schools are Alma College (MI), Bard College (NY), Butler University (IN), Coe College (IA), Columbia College (SC), Connecticut College (CT), Gustavus Adolphus College (MN), Hamilton College (NY), Hope College (MI), Ivy Tech Community College-Lafayette (IN), Kirkwood Community College (IA), San Josª State University (CA), University of Kentucky, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of Notre Dame (IN), Wabash College (IN), and Whittier College (CA).

Data collection and analysis for the Wabash National Study will begin in spring 2006 and continue through at least 2010. "We will follow approximately 5,500 students from the entering class of 2006 through their undergraduate years," says Charles Blaich (at right), director of inquiries at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts. "Our goals are to learn about specific features of college life that promote student growth and to assess the impact that liberal arts education has on students."

All student participants will complete a series of surveys that collect information about their in- and out-of-classroom college experiences, measuring seven key educational outcomes: leadership, reasoning and problem solving, well-being, moral character, integration of learning, intercultural effectiveness, and lifelong learning. In addition, researchers will conduct extensive one?on?one interviews with a subset of students to further investigate their experiences. The research team will analyze campus programs and resources to determine the degree to which they influence student development. This combination of data, gathered over four college years, will provide a comprehensive examination of liberal arts education at participating institutions.

"We will look at the effects of study abroad, first-year programs, living-learning communities, teaching quality and organization, student to student interactions, and many other aspects of the students’ experiences," says Blaich. "The study’s findings will help liberal arts colleges and universities document and strengthen the quality of liberal arts education on their campuses. We want this research to improve learning and help make college education more effective for students across the country."

The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education is led by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College. Blaich, the study director, is collaborating with Ernest Pascarella (at left, University of Iowa), Marcia Baxter Magolda (Miami University, Ohio), Patricia King (University of Michigan), and Mike Valiga (ACT Inc.) to design and implement the study.

Founded at Wabash College in 2000, through a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts works to explore, test, and promote liberal arts education. The Center of Inquiry 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 Wabash National Study or the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, please visit http://liberalarts.wabash.edu or contact Dr. Blaich at nationalstudy@wabash.edu or by phone at (765) 361-6331.


For more information see:

Wabash College • P.O. Box 352 • Crawfordsville, IN 47933 • 765.361.6100