Research on Civic Engagement



The Civic Learning and Engagement Assessment Instruments: Characteristics and Dimensions inventory of civic learning and engagement assessment instruments below is not exhaustive; however, key instruments have been included. The inventory examines the instruments for four primary dimensions of civic learning and engagement – civic knowledge, civic skills, civic values, and civic motivations, as well as information about availability, purpose, and issues for each of the assessment instruments. A companion literature review, Civic Learning and Engagement: A Review of the Research Literature on Civic Learning Assessment and Instruments, provides discussion of those instruments that have been utilized in published studies.


A Brief Review of the Evidence on Civic Learning in Higher Education
Released in conjunction with A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future in January 2012, Ashley Finley's review of the evidence on civic learning in higher education spans over thirty years of research on civic learning and democratic engagement in higher education. It reports six essential findings on civic learning and civic learning outcomes based on available evidence.

Making Progress?: What We Know about the Achievement of Liberal Education Outcomes
Written by Ashley Finley, this report provides an overview of national data from a variety of studies of student learning, including the NSSE, Wabash National Study, CIRP, PSRI, and others. It presents comparative data on achievement over time across an array of liberal education outcomes—such as critical thinking, writing, civic engagement, global competence, and social responsibility. The report contrasts the very positive evidence drawn from what students think they have learned with the much more sobering evidence from national tests about what students actually can do in such areas as critical thinking, writing, and quantitative reasoning. It also reflects the growing evidence that how we construct the learning environment, e.g., by emphasizing high-impact practices, is a crucial component both in assessing learning and in raising students' level of achievement. 

Promising Practices for Personal and Social Responsibility: Findings from a National Research Collaborative
Drawing on meetings of a distinguished group of educational researchers, Promising Practices for Personal and Social Responsibility highlights select national / multi-institutional data and major themes along five dimensions of personal and social responsibility. Importantly, the report also offers a set of evidence-based recommendations for improving campus practice in relation to educating students for personal and social responsibility.


Exploring the Relationships between Undergraduate Service-Learning Experiences and Global Perspective-Taking (2011)
This study by Mark Engberg and Katherine Fox examines the relationship between service-learning participation and global perspective-taking. Results demonstrate significant associations between service-learning and aspects of cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development. Cited in A Crucible Moment, the study concludes with implications for student affairs practitioners interested in adopting a service-based model of intercultural development.

Service-Learning in Theory and Practice: The Future of Community Engagement in Higher Education (2010)
This 2010 book from Dan W. Butin (founding dean of the School of Education at Merrimack College) offers a comprehensive rethinking of the theory and practice of service-learning in higher education. Democratic and community engagement are vital aspects of linking colleges and communities, and this book critically engages the best practices and powerful alternative models in the academy. Drawing on key theoretical insights and empirical studies, Butin details the limits and possibilities of the future of community engagement in developing and sustaining the engaged campus.

A Promising Connection: Increasing College Access and Success through Civic Engagement (2010)
This paper explores promising connections between civic engagement and college access and success. It offers examples of programs that improve students’ access to and success in higher education that can be replicated by institutions across the country. Informed by theory, research, and best practices, it provides recommendations to campus leaders on how to create and sustain effective programs.

Assessing Higher Education's Advancement Toward a New Vision of Society (2009)
Written by the Sylvia Hurtado, the director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), this article discusses strategies for assessing campus climate and student learning outcomes related to engagement and personal and social responsibility.

Teaching and Learning in a Social Context: A Meta-Analysis of Service Learning's Effect on Academic, Personal, Social, and Citizenship Outcomes (2009)
This meta-analysis summarizes evidence on (a) extent and types of change in participants in service learning programs, (b) specific program elements (moderators) that affect the amount of change in participants, and (c) generalizability of results across educational levels and curricular versus non-curricular service. Programs with structured reflection showed larger changes.

Democratic Engagement White Paper (NERCHE)
Released by the New England Resource Center for Higher Education in 2009, this report discusses the findings from a 2008 colloquium held by the Kettering Foundation on the state of civic education in higher education. The primary goal of the meeting was to provide a forum in which a group of leaders in civic engagement and higher education could identify problems and issues associated with reforming higher education for community engagement and democratic citizenship. This report examines how democratic responsibility can be promoted as a key institutional priority.

Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University (2008)
A report from Imagining America, Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University, proposes “concrete ways to remove obstacles to academic work carried out for and/or with the public by giving such work full standing as scholarship, research, or artistic creation.”  Emerging from the work of the Tenure Team Initiative, among whose 19 esteemed members are AAC&U President Carol Schneider and AAC&U Senior Scholar R. Eugene Rice, the report is a toolkit for those eager to change the culture surrounding promotion and tenure in the “new academy.”  See more information about Imagining America and AAC&U faculty resources.

Still Serving: Measuring the Eight-Year Impact of AmeriCorps on Alumni (2008)
Results from a rigorous evaluation of AmeriCorps show that AmeriCorps has long-term impacts on members years after they serve. Over the last eight years, since 1999, we have been following more than 2,000 individuals in AmeriCorps State and National and NCCC to look at the effect of service on their future civic engagement and volunteering, employment and careers, and educational attainment. Findings reveal that AmeriCorps is a pipeline to careers in public service and creates civic leaders who continue to serve in their communities long after their service has been completed.


Linking Engaged Learning, Student Mental Health and Well-being, and Civic Development
This major research literature review published in 2005 examines both the theoretical levels and the available empirical research regarding the linkages among forms of engaged learning, forms of depression and substance abuse, and the civic development of students.

The Benefits of Diversity in College and Beyond: An Empirical Analysis, by Patricia Gurin, University of Michigan
Data from this in-depth empirical analysis that measures the educational benefits of diversity shows that students educated in diverse classrooms learn to think in deeper and more complex ways, and are better prepared to become active participants in a pluralistic, democratic society. Full text of the study can be found on the University of Michigan's web site.

How Service Learning Affects Students
This 2000 report from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) investigates the comparative effects of service learning and community service on the cognitive development of college undergraduates and how learning in general is enhanced by this service. The report examines this through a longitudinal sample of students at different college campuses. It further demonstrates that service learning positively affects academic performance, self-efficacy, leadership, choice of a service career and plans to participate in service after college. The results of the study are hoped to provide a firm empirical base for both faculty and administrators to formulate policy concerning the use and possible expansion of service learning on the campus, and at the same time, offer new insights for faculty regarding how to make service learning courses more effective.

Diversity and The College Curriculum: How Colleges & Universities Are Preparing Students For a Changing World, by Debra Humphreys, AAC&U
This paper explores current developments in curriculum transformation. It presents a brief overview of what these changes seek to accomplish and what they mean for today's college students. The paper includes a summary of the most recent research on the impact of these kinds of changes on students' cognitive development and attitudes toward diversity, and provides a list of additional resources on curriculum change in higher education.

Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital by Robert D. Putnam
Published in 1995 by the Journal of Democracy, which is sponsored by theNational Endowment for Democracy, this article reports on Putnam's research into the state of civic engagement in the U.S. Putnam, the Dillon Professor of International Affairs and director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, finds a pervasive decline in voluntary association and mutual trust among Americans and posits a trend of disengagement from civic life.

The Electronic Forum Handbook: Study Circles in Cyberspace
Written by Pamela B. Kleiber, Ed.D., Margaret E. Holt, Ed.D. and Jill Dianne Swenson, Ph.D., and dedicated to the memory of Susan Ginsberg Hadden, this handbook presents the basics of planning, conducting, participating in, and evaluating electronic forums and study circles. The text grows out of the experience of moderators trained in traditional face-to-face approaches to moderating forums and study circles who experimented with an electronic version on the Internet, linking classrooms in an electronic study circle.