Wabash National Study 2006–2012

The Center of Inquiry led 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 was 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 had 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 focused on key liberal arts outcomes, using both quantitative and qualitative research and examining students as well as institutions.

Liberal Arts Outcomes

Our study focused on the development of twelve outcomes associated with undergraduate liberal arts education and the educational conditions and experiences that foster these outcomes. The selected outcomes included:
  • Critical thinking
  • Moral reasoning
  • Socially responsible leadership
  • Interest in engaging intellectually challenging work
  • Interest in political and social involvement
  • Well-being
  • Positive attitude toward literacy
  • Interest in contributing to the arts
  • Interest in contributing to the sciences
  • Openness to engaging new ideas and diverse people
  • Orientation toward interacting with diverse people
  • Academic motivation

We explored the extent to which students developed because of their college experiences, the conditions that contributed to this development, and ways that liberal arts institutions could more readily assess and act on this knowledge to enhance their impact. Read more about how we measured these outcomes.

Study Details and Design

Forty-nine institutions participated in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. They included liberal arts colleges, regional universities, research universities, and community colleges. The study sample contained both private and public institutions, as well as religiously affiliated, single-sex, and minority-serving schools. Participating institutions exhibited a wide range of selectivity, tuition costs, and geographic variety. Click here to see a list of all the institutions that participated 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. In total, more than 17,000 students from these three cohorts participated in the study.

We followed these student cohorts for 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 worked with faculty, staff, and students at participating institutions to identify key questions they had about their campuses so that we could customize Wabash National Study data to address their specific concerns.

The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education was 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, assisted with the quantitative data collection and reporting.

Address questions or comments about the study to:

Director of Inquiries
(765) 361-6331