Diversity and Democracy

Assessing Civic Mindedness

Preparation for effective citizenship requires students to acquire and apply knowledge, to exercise critical analysis, and to pursue lifelong learning. In developing these skills and abilities, an effective citizen's personal, social, and intellectual goals are intertwined. Yet programs designed to develop students' personal and social capacities are often separate from their core academic experiences (Eyler 2009), which tend to focus primarily on intellectual development. Thus higher education is charged with fostering student learning and transferring that learning across contexts, including to and from the areas where civic learning currently occurs.

According to the Lumina Foundation's Degree Qualifications Profile, civic learning should be a key goal across higher education. But where is civic education located within each institution's programs, and what are colleges and universities doing to assess civic learning? Civic learning has been described as "preparing students for responsible citizenship…requiring the integration of knowledge and skills acquired in both the broad curriculum and in the student's specialized field. In developing civic competence, students engage in a wide variety of perspectives and evidence and form their own reasoned views on public issues" (Adelman et al. 2011, 11). It stands to reason that civic learning can occur in curricular and cocurricular activities where intentional educational practices (such as reflection) lead to intended learning outcomes.

Figure 1: Dimensions Contributing to the
Development of the Civic-Minded Graduate
Figure 1

Civic engagement is part of the institutional mission at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). An urban commuter research campus with over thirty thousand students, IUPUI is dedicated to facilitating students' civic learning through service-learning courses, service-based student scholarships, cocurricular service activities, and community-based research. The culture of service permeates all campus divisions and coheres in the IUPUI Center for Service and Learning (CSL). The CSL is staffed by thirteen full-time employees (including the two authors) and composed of four offices: the Office of Community Work Study, which employs students as tutors and in other community-based activities; the Office of Service Learning, which provides faculty development related to service learning; the Office of Community Service, which promotes cocurricular community service, volunteering, and campus-wide service events; and the Office of Neighborhood Partnerships, which strengthens relationships between IUPUI and nearby neighborhoods.

Across these offices, CSL administers nine types of service-based scholarships and provides approximately forty-five campus-wide service opportunities for students, faculty, and staff. IUPUI also provides opportunities for students to develop civic skills by enrolling in service-learning courses and serving as faculty assistants for community-based courses and research. Through these engagement opportunities, CSL and IUPUI encourage students to examine their beliefs, passions, and knowledge in relation to their various communities. CSL also assesses the civic learning that occurs throughout these initiatives, and uses these measurements to improve programs and build institutional capacity to further civic engagement at IUPUI (Bringle et al. 2011).

University Initiatives

CSL seeks to develop civic mindedness in IUPUI students. A civic-minded graduate is defined as "a person who has completed a course of study (e.g., bachelor's degree), and has the capacity and desire to work with others to achieve the common good" (Bringle and Steinberg 2010, 429). Likewise, civic mindedness refers to "a person's inclination or disposition to be knowledgeable of and involved in the community, and to have a commitment to act upon a sense of responsibility as a member of that community." Thus we are interested in measuring students' orientations toward the community and toward others in the community, as distinct from their orientations toward self, family, or corporate concerns.

The attributes of a Civic-Minded Graduate (CMG) arise at the intersection of three dimensions:

  • Student identity
  • Educational experiences
  • Civic experiences

Through an extensive literature review, a conceptual framework was developed for the Civic-Minded Graduate construct that arises from these intersections. In this framework, a graduate's civic mindedness is composed of outcomes related to four domains: knowledge (cognitive outcomes), dispositions (affective outcomes), skills, and behavioral intentions. The framework includes ten student learning outcomes that we have identified as attributes of a civic-minded graduate, all of which can be fostered through curricular and cocurricular educational activities (based on Bringle and Steinberg 2010). The outcomes, which appear in parentheses below, are classified in terms of the four domains and related subdomains:


  • Volunteer opportunities (an understanding of how one can contribute to society through community service)
  • Academic knowledge and skills (advanced disciplinary knowledge and skills relevant to addressing community issues)
  • Contemporary social issues (an understanding of the complexity of modern social issues)


  • Listening and Communication (proficiency in writing, speaking, and considering divergent viewpoints)
  • Diversity (a rich understanding of, sensitivity to, and respect for human diversity in a pluralistic society)          
  • Consensus-building (the ability to discuss and bring accord around controversial social issues with civility and respect)


  • Valuing community engagement (a sincere desire to serve others and improve society)
  • Self-efficacy (a desire to take personal action, and an ability to have realistic views about those actions' likelihood to produce results)
  • Social trustee of knowledge (the acceptance of responsibility for using the knowledge one gains through college to serve others)

Behavioral Intentions (stated intentions to be civically involved, for example, by choosing a service-based career or participating in community service)

Many types of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions that are undoubtedly related to civic mindedness (for example, leadership, teamwork, and general problem-solving skills) are not included in this conceptual framework. We see these outcomes as implied by the list above, or as combinations of the elements identified in the list.

We use two instruments to measure the construct of civic mindedness: a quantitative scale for self-reported data (the CMG Scale) and a qualitative reflection tool (the CMG Narrative Prompt and the associated evaluative Rubric). We use these instruments to assess the civic learning outcomes of students involved in curricular and cocurricular programs. Both instruments can be used in a range of contexts, including as class assignments, in capstone courses, for institutional reporting, in conjunction with student portfolios, or as part of the evaluation process for university-sponsored civic engagement awards.

The CMG Scale measures students' capacity and desire to work democratically with others to improve their communities or to achieve public good. The thirty-item survey includes subscales (ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree") corresponding to the conceptual framework above. Each subscale score consists of the average rating for all items in that subscale, and total scores are based on the average rating for all items.

The CMG Narrative Prompt and Rubric draw inspiration from the civic engagement rubric developed by AAC&U's VALUE project (www.aacu.org/value). We originally intended the narrative prompt to be used as an exit exercise for graduating seniors, but we now apply it widely across the curriculum. Students responding to the Narrative Prompt are asked to write a reflective response to the following prompt:

I have a responsibility and a commitment to use the knowledge and skills I have gained as a college student to collaborate with others, who may be differentfrom me, to help address issues in society.

We developed a rubric for evaluating the narratives that includes five categories: (a) civic identity, (b) understanding how social issues are addressed in society, (c) active participation in society to address social issues, (d) collaboration with others, and (e) benefit of education to address social issues.

Using these instruments, we have found that service-learning pedagogy is particularly efficacious for developing civic-minded graduates, and that carefully designed cocurricular programs and activities can also contribute to civic learning outcomes. Both quality and quantity matter: opportunities for critical reflection with faculty or staff mentors, placements that involve sufficient hours and meaningful tasks, and strong campus–community partnerships are all important factors in the development of civic-minded graduates.

Civic Learning Pathway Initiative

Through the Civic Learning Pathway Initiative, we are developing a model that describes how postsecondary students develop civic mindedness, and how colleges and universities can contribute to the development of civic-minded graduates. In building this model, we draw from a multidisciplinary literature base to conceptualize the process by which postsecondary students develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors, and self-identity that epitomize the civic-minded graduate. The work we have done to develop the model has potential applications for refining programs (for example, student service-based scholarships and community-based work study) to ensure that they serve as pathways for students to become civic-minded graduates. It can also be useful for faculty-driven curriculum development projects at the course and departmental levels.

As part of the Civic Learning Pathway Initiative, we use e-portfolios to promote civic learning and to help students articulate and demonstrate civic growth. In addition to facilitating reflection, e-portfolios foster active learning, motivate students, provide a means for feedback, store multiple media, allow cross-referencing of student work, and are context rich (Zubizarreta 2004). E-portfolios also heighten the social elements of learning (Yancey 2001) and incorporate assessment into the learning process (Cambridge 2001). CSL is using the CMG Prompt and Rubric to measure civic learning via e-portfolios in themed learning communities and first-year seminars with service-learning components. We hope to use the CMG tools to encourage students to think about civic knowledge, skills, dispositions, and behavioral intentions from the moment they enter the institution until they leave as civic-minded graduates.

Future Directions

Assessing students' civic growth throughout their college careers will help us refine our assessment tools and develop additional prompts that can generate more authentic evidence. In addition, calibrating the rubric will improve its feasibility, reliability, and applicability to disciplines or other units on campus.

The next step in this work will be promoting e-portfolio use beyond the themed learning communities and first-year seminars. CSL is uniquely positioned to do this because we work with multiple units, departments, and faculty on campus. CSL currently incorporates e-portfolios into all scholarship programs and will eventually use them with students engaged in some cocurricular activities (service events, alternative break trips) as well. Evidence collected through these e-portfolios can be used to conduct further research on the development of civic mindedness.

We have been referring to civic mindedness as understood in the North American context, with a particular focus on domestic service-learning. However, global citizenship is a unique area of civic development that warrants special consideration (Bringle, Hatcher, and Jones 2010). We are interested in exploring how our work on civic mindedness applies to American students' civic education in international service-learning contexts.


Accrediting associations and higher education institutions continue to demonstrate increased interest in the value of civic learning and in how civic growth may differ across disciplines and majors. The CMG construct and assessment tools, coupled with e-portfolios, can help institutions document and assess their work in these areas (Steinberg, Hatcher, and Bringle 2011). Researchers and practitioners should consider modifying these tools according to their contexts to strengthen their institutions' work to produce civic-minded undergraduates. In addition, practitioners, faculty, and researchers should envision the possibilities for Web 2.0 tools to bolster students' civic development and help them succeed in today's global society.

Editor's note: IUPUI is a member of AAC&U's LEAP Campus Action Network. To learn more about IUPUI's Civic-Minded Graduate construct and evaluation tools, contact Kathryn Steinberg at ksteinbe@iupui.edu.


Adelman, Cliff, Peter Ewell, Paul Gaston, and Carol G. Schneider. 2011. Degree Qualifications Profile. Lumina Foundation: Indianapolis, IN. http://www.luminafoundation.org/

Bringle, Robert G., Julie A. Hatcher, and Steven G. Jones. 2010. International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Bringle, Robert G., and Kathryn S. Steinberg. 2010. "Educating for Informed Community Involvement." American Journal of Community Psychology 46,428–41.

Bringle, Robert G., Morgan Studer, Jarod Wilson, Patti H. Clayton, and Kathryn S. Steinberg. 2011 (forthcoming). "Designing Programs with a Purpose: To Promote Civic Engagement of Life.Journal of Academic Ethics 30.

Cambridge, Barbara L., editor. 2001. Electronic Portfolios: Emerging Practices in Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Eyler, Janet. 2009. "What International Service-Learning Research Can Learn from Research on Service-Learning." In International Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks and Research, edited by Robert G. Bringle, Julie A. Hatcher, and Steven G. Jones, 225–42. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Steinberg, Kathryn S., Julie A. Hatcher, and Robert G. Bringle. 2011. "A North Star: Civic-Minded Graduate." Paper submitted to Michigan Journal for Community Service Learning.

Yancey, Kathleen B. 2001. "Digitized Student Portfolios." In Electronic Portfolios: Emerging Practices in Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning, edited by Barbara L. Cambridge, 15–30. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Zubizaretta, John. 2004. The Learning Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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