The Center of Inquiry is leading the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a large-scale, longitudinal study to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of liberal arts education. Our research is designed to help colleges and universities improve student learning and enhance the educational impact of their programs.

The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education has two fundamental goals:

  • To learn what teaching practices, programs, and institutional structures support liberal arts education
  • To develop methods of assessing liberal arts education

In order to achieve these goals, we are focusing on key liberal arts outcomes, using both quantitative and qualitative research, and examining students as well as institutions.

Liberal Arts Outcomes

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

  • Critical thinking
  • Need for cognition
  • Interest in and attitudes about diversity
  • Leadership
  • Moral reasoning
  • Well-being

We are exploring the extent to which students develop because of their college experiences, the conditions that contribute to this development, and ways that liberal arts institutions can more readily assess and act on this knowledge to enhance their impact. Read more about how we measure these outcomes.

Study Details and Design

Forty-nine institutions are participating in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. They include liberal arts colleges, regional universities, research universities, and community colleges. The study sample contains both private and public institutions, as well as religiously-affiliated, single-sex, and minority-serving schools. Participating institutions exhibit a wide range of selectivity, tuition costs, and geographic variety. Click here to see a list of all the institutions participating in the Wabash National Study.

The Wabash National Study began in 2006, when first-year students from 19 institutions completed a series of surveys that gathered information about their precollege experiences and that measured liberal arts outcomes. A subset of students from six institutions participated in in-depth interviews in which they reflected on their college experiences. In spring 2007, students from this first cohort returned for follow-up assessments on their college experiences and the liberal arts outcomes.

In fall 2007, seven new institutions joined the study, with Wabash College entering for a second round with an additional group of first-year students. And in fall 2008, 26 institutions joined the study, including Wabash College, Hampshire College, and the University of Rhode Island, which entered for additional rounds. To date, more than 17,000 students from these three cohorts have participated in the study.

We will follow these student cohorts for at least four years, collecting student and institutional data at multiple points over the course of the study. Learn more about the study design and data collection methods for the Wabash National Study.

Throughout the study, we will work with faculty, staff, and students at participating institutions to identify key questions they have about their campuses so that we can customize Wabash National Study data to address their specific concerns.

The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education is led by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College, under the direction of Dr. Charles F. Blaich, and in collaboration with research teams from the University of Iowa, led by Dr. Ernest T. Pascarella; the University of Michigan, led by Dr. Patricia M. King; and Miami University (Ohio), led by Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda. ACT, Inc., under the direction of Dr. Michael J. Valiga, is assisting with the quantitative data collection and reporting.

Download a description of the study >> (PDF)

Address questions or comments about the study to:

Director of Inquiries
(765) 361-6331