History: The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education

The Center of Inquiry led the Wabash National Study, a large, longitudinal study to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of liberal arts education. This study was designed to help colleges and universities improve student learning and strengthen the educational impact of their programs.
The Wabash National Study was led by the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College, under the direction of Charles Blaich, in collaboration with
research teams from the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, and Miami University (Ohio).

Outcomes & Study Design

The Wabash National Study had two fundamental goals…

Learn

To learn more about the teaching practices, programs, curricula, and institutional conditions that support the aims of liberal arts and general education.

Develop

To develop methods and processes for assessing the impact of liberal arts and general education that institutions can use to improve learning and teaching.

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

Our study focused on the development of twelve outcomes associated with liberal arts and general 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 constructing 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 2- and 4-year colleges and universities could more readily assess and act on this knowledge to enhance their impact.

 

Learn more about how we measured these outcomes

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. See the 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.

If you have further questions about the Wabash Study, please contact Director of the Center of Inquiry and Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium Charles F. Blaich.

Learn more about the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education.