Written by Elizabeth Hollander, Tisch College Senior Fellow, the new report on Civic Education of Undergraduates in United States Research Universities analyzes current approaches to civic engagement education at 15 research universities around the nation. Hollander’s report documents major expansion of these programs and recommends priorities for the next stage in their development.
In preparing the report, Hollander reached out to members of The Research Universities Civic Engagement Network (TRUCEN). Founded in 2005 by Campus Compact and Tufts University, TRUCEN is a learning community of civic engagement leaders at 30 research universities who are interested in fostering the civic education of their students. The group was organized by Campus Compact and Tufts in 2005.
“I did this study to help inform the work of TRUCEN and to illuminate the role of research universities in promoting the civic engagement movement in higher education,” Hollander explained. “Civic engagement education is a relatively young field and this research was designed to discover how research universities with active programs in this area define civic education, what approaches they use, and how committed they are to civic education as a university goal.”
Overall, the study found that campuses had many civic engagement opportunities available to students, including both curricular and co-curricular activities. However, those opportunities were not well integrated across the university. “A student’s course work may involve an active citizenship component and he or she may live in a multicultural-themed residence hall, but many universities don’t help those students integrate the civic knowledge they gain from those separate experiences,” Hollander said. “In fact, while most campus’ have dorms with a multicultural or diversity theme, rarely do campuses integrate that experience with a civic component.”
One example of a residential civic experience can be found at the University of Georgia, where a freshman global engagement program includes a residential component, core courses, and a service learning course. At Tufts, Tisch College partners with the Tufts Office of Residential Life and Learning to annually train all Resident Assistants in how to integrate active citizenship into resident hall activities.
Hollander also found that most universities provided in-depth experiences for select groups of students, but that most did not seek to engage every student in civic work. Tulane was the only university in the group with public service requirements for graduation for all undergraduates.
Tufts was one of the few other universities offering opportunities for all undergraduates through Tisch College-sponsored programs such as a civic engagement themed common reading book for incoming students; civic engagement opportunities in residence halls; and the Honos Civicus Society, which recognizes graduating seniors for their curricular and co-curricular civic achievements.
Additionally, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have both integrated civic experiences into required undergraduate courses.
Ultimately, Hollander says that the lack of consistency of approaches across research universities is due to an underlying lack of shared theory and scholarly research about civic engagement education. “Research universities were early leaders of the civic engagement movement in higher education, but as the field has grown, few research universities have been at the forefront of that growth,” Hollander said. “It is striking that these research universities seem to devote little time or effort to examining theories of student ethical, moral, and civic development to inform the aims of their programs as well as the shape of the programs themselves.”
Of the groups in the study, only Tufts and the University of Maryland have detailed civic learning goals for their students, and only Tufts reported it was undertaking a longitudinal study of students to examine whether those goals are being met. Duke and the University of Pennsylvania are both developing a longitudinal studies.
“These universities are leaders in advancing scholarship in other fields and they should be more rigorously applying their expertise and resources to studying, evaluating, and testing best practices for civic engagement education,” Hollander added.
Through groups like TRUCEN, Hollander recommends that research institutions continue to work together to develop and test theories about how students develop civically and apply their rigorous scholarship to measurements of student civic education and learning outcomes.
Hollander’s research was done with the assistance of a research advisory committee composed of: Amy Driscoll, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Matthew Hartley, University of Pennsylvania; Barbara Holland of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse and the University of Western Sidney; Robert Hollister, Tufts University; Barbara Jacoby, University of Maryland, College Park; Eric Mlyn, Duke University; and Julie Plaut, Minnesota Campus Compact. Hollander formerly served as Executive Director of Campus Compact (1997-2006).
The universities participating in the study were Brown University; Duke University; University of Georgia; Georgetown University; Harvard University; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; North Carolina State University; University of Oklahoma; University of Pennsylvania; Princeton University; Tufts University; Tulane University; and Washington University in St. Louis.
Originally published October 2009