GEORGE D. KUH PAUL D. UMBACH Experiencing Umbach (2005...آ  Experiencing Diversity GEORGE D. KUH...

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Transcript of GEORGE D. KUH PAUL D. UMBACH Experiencing Umbach (2005...آ  Experiencing Diversity GEORGE D. KUH...

  • 14 L I B E R A L ED U C A T I O N WI N T E R 2005

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    Experiencing Diversity G E O R G E D . K U H ■ PAU L D . U M B A C H

    Students at liberal arts

    colleges report more frequent experiences

    with diversity on average

    than do their counterparts at other types of institutions

    IN MANY WAYS, liberal arts colleges seem uniquely well suited to provide high quality undergraduate experiences. Their relatively small size ostensibly promotes student-faculty interaction and meaningful relations with peers. Many have salient missions—some be- cause of denominational roots, others because of curricular arrangements—that are thought to leave distinctive imprints on their students’ attitudes and values (Clark 1970; Kuh et al. 1991; Townsend, Newell, and Wiese 1992).

    According to Richard Hersh (1999, 192)

    these structural and cultural features make liberal arts colleges “sui generis, themselves a special kind of pedagogy.” That is, they em- phasize a range of intellectual and practical knowledge, skills, and competencies and cre- ate the conditions inside and outside the classroom that help students integrate and bring coherence to their learning. This is sup- ported by some pretty convincing empirical evidence. Decades of studies show that resi- dential liberal arts colleges “produce a pattern of consistently positive student outcomes not found in any other type of American higher- education institution” (Astin 1999, 77; see also Pascarella and Terenzini 1991).

    The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Greater Expectations report (2002) makes a persuasive argument that a liberal education may be more relevant today than at any previous time, given the social, cultural, and economic challenges facing col- lege graduates. Yet, some of the educationally powerful features of liberal arts colleges could

    be constraints in a world that is becoming in- creasingly diverse in virtually every way. For example, because of their location or denomi- national affiliation, many liberal arts colleges are fairly homogeneous in terms of student and faculty racial and ethnic backgrounds. This relative lack of structural diversity re- duces the probability a student will frequently interact with someone different from them- selves in terms of race or ethnicity. Studies show that experiences with diversity are pre- cursors to such desirable outcomes as im- proved intergroup relations, critical thinking, and satisfaction with the learning environ- ment (Gurin 1999; Hurtado et al. 1999).

    Thus, it would appear that in terms of having experiences with diversity, students at many liberal arts colleges may be disadvantaged compared with their counterparts at larger, more structurally diverse universities. At the same time, it is possible—as Mitchell Chang (2001) has demonstrated—that an institution can compensate for its relative lack of structural diversity by providing students with opportu- nities to experience and learn more about human diversity. Examples include required multicultural or diversity courses (often part of the general education component), elective ethnic studies courses, cultural awareness workshops, and cultural centers.

    All this begs the question, how do students at liberal arts colleges fare in terms of experi- encing diversity?

    We provide a partial answer to this question by threading together key findings from two complementary projects. The first is the Na- tional Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual survey of tens of thousands of first- year and senior students (Kuh 2001, 2003). For this study we analyzed the responses of 98,744 undergraduates (49,706 first-year students and 49,038 seniors) from 349 four-year colleges

    GEORGE D. KUH is chancellor’s professor and director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. PAUL D. UMBACH is assistant professor of higher education at the University of Iowa.

  • y What Can We Learn from Liberal Arts Colleges?

    University of Iowa

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    survey in spring 2002. Of this group, 17,640 (9,598 first-year students and 8,042 seniors) were enrolled at sixty-eight baccalaureate lib- eral arts colleges, as defined by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (McCormick 2001).1

    The second project is a recently completed two-year study of twenty colleges and univer- sities (Kuh et al. 2005). Known as Project DEEP (Documenting Effective Educational Practices), the schools selected for the study all had higher-than-predicted scores on NSSE and higher-than-predicted graduation rates. The purpose of DEEP was to discover and document the policies and practices at these schools that contributed to the better than expected performance by their students.2

    Experiences with diversity: How do liberal arts colleges stack up? The NSSE data point to two general conclu- sions. The first is about diversity experiences at liberal arts colleges compared with other types of colleges and universities. The second is related to students’ experiences with diver- sity at liberal arts colleges.

    First, students at liberal arts colleges report more frequent experiences with diversity on average than do their counterparts at other types of institutions. Table 1 illustrates this where the overall diversity experiences score for liberal arts colleges is set at zero. The pat- tern of negative effect sizes for all the other types of institutions indicates that students at liberal arts colleges, on average, report more experiences with diversity compared with

    other schools. The effect size is the proportion of a standard deviation change in the depen- dent variable (in this instance, diversity expe- riences) associated with the independent variable (institutional type). The larger the effect size, the more likely the differences are “real.” For our purposes, an effect size of 0.20 is worthy of note.

    In relative terms, liberal arts colleges appear to have diversity-rich learning environments. This advantage is substantial, even after con- trolling for student and other institutional features. This pattern is mildly surprising if for no other reason than that many of these insti- tutions are not naturally imbued with struc- tural diversity. For example, many liberal arts colleges are located for historical reasons in rural settings, which are neither populated nor viewed as desirable collegiate environ- ments by students from historically underrep- resented groups. As a result, many liberal arts colleges are not structurally diverse. That is, on average, they enroll relatively small num- bers of students from racial and ethnic minor- ity backgrounds. Even so, they seem to leave a distinctive diversity imprint on their students.

    Second, diversity experiences at liberal arts colleges are positively associated with a host of educationally purposeful activities and out- comes. This can be seen in table 2, which dis- plays the relationships between different measures of diversity and selected indicators of student engagement and student self-re- ported progress since starting college. The plus signs indicate that a highly significant correlation exists between the relevant mea- sures; a minus sign indicates a negative rela- tionship. The pattern of findings shows that students at liberal arts colleges who more fre- quently interact with peers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds or who have serious conversations with other students who hold political and social views very different from their own also engage at higher levels in other effective educational practices, such as work- ing with peers on problem-solving activities inside and outside the classroom (active and collaborative learning).

    For this study, we defined structural diver- sity (table 2) as the probability that a student will interact with a student of another race. As expected, first-year and senior students at institutions with high structural diversity scores are more likely to engage in diversity-

    16 L I B E R A L ED U C A T I O N WI N T E R 2005

    Table 1 Engagement in diversity-related activities: Differences between liberal arts colleges and other institution types (after controls) represented by effect size

    Carnegie Classification First-year Senior

    Doctoral Research- Extensive -0.21 -0.19

    Doctoral Research- Intensive -0.24 -0.25

    Master’s I & II -0.27 -0.19

    Baccalaureate- General -0.30 -0.28

  • Table 2 Relationships between diversity experiences, effective educational practices, and desired outcomes for students at liberal arts colleges

    First-year Students Seniors

    Diversity Diversity Structural Climate in Course- Diversity Structural Climate in Course- Diversity

    Dependent Variable Diversity Diversity Work Press Diversity Diversity Work Press


    Academic Challenge + + + Higher-Order Thinking + + + + + + Active and Collaborative + + + + + + Diversity-related Activities + + + + + + + +


    Supportive Campus Env. + + Interpersonal - + Support for Learning + + + + + + Satisfaction - + +


    Personal/Social + + + + + + + Understand Diversity + + + + + + + + Contribute to Community + + + + + + Understand Self + + + + + + Understand Others + + + + +

    related activities and report gains in understanding people from other backgrounds and cultures.

    While structural diversity appears to matter in promot- ing engagement in certain ef- fective