Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Civic Engagement: A Study of Changes in College

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Civic Engagement: A Study of Changes in College

Article excerpt


Using a mixed method longitudinal cohort design, the Tufts University study is examining student involvement in and attitudes towards civic engagement during the undergraduate years and beyond. It does this by using baseline data from students' levels of community service in high school and then analyzes a variety of curricular and co-curricular experiences in college. This article focuses solely on the research design and some preliminary findings of students' civic attitudes during their first two years of college.


Nationally recognized best practices for research on civic learning outcomes often draw from Service-Learning measurements (Bringle, Phillips, & Hudson, 2004; Eyler & Giles, 1999). Research has shown that high school activities are a strong predictor of college activities (Astin & Sax, 1998; Jones & Hill, 2003; Marks & Jones, 2004). Research specifically on civic and political engagement has identified civic indicators in youth in general (Keeter, Zukin, Andolina, & Jenkins, 2002). However, less data exists on the impact of college activities on civic and political engagement.

To address this gap in knowledge, the Jonathan M. Tisch College for Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University is conducting a study on civic engagement to examine the link between students' experiences and the development of their civic and political attitudes and activities over time. The study began in the fall of 2003 and will conclude the summer of 2012. During this time period, four academic cohorts of students (classes of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010) are each tracked over six years. During the spring of 2007, the research team undertook the fourth year of survey administration of this longitudinal study.

The study addresses two main research questions: 1) To what extent does participation in specific programs and activities affect students' attitudes and behaviors towards civic engagement, during the undergraduate years and after graduation? 2) How do students' civic and political attitudes, knowledge, and skills develop and change during the undergraduate years? The study assesses the impact of the Citizenship and Community Scholars Program (CPS Scholars Program) in cultivating civic competencies, and identifies other activities that influence students' development in these areas. This multi-year, time-series study tracks four cohorts of students throughout their undergraduate tenure, as well as two years post-graduation. Each cohort is divided into three research groups based on their participation in the CPS Scholars Program or their level of high school community service: CPS Scholars, high involvement in high school participants, and low-involvement in high school participants.

This article provides background on civic engagement at Tufts University, a brief literature review of national research in this area, and comments on how the Tufts study can uniquely contribute to what is known at present. Next, we outline the research design and methodology of the study, including the process undertaken to develop the research instruments, recruit participants, and collect data. Finally, we share preliminary findings on attitudes, along with the relevance of the Tufts study's eventual findings to higher education.

Institutional Background

Under the leadership of President Lawrence S. Bacow, Tufts University has an articulated institutional mission that embraces three focus areas--active citizenship, international perspective and life sciences and the environment. Tufts uses the term "active citizenship" to encapsulate holistic, collective, multi-sector, results oriented civic participation towards community solutions (Hollister, 2002). Tisch College was created in 2000 to lead Tufts University's mission to prepare students in all fields of study for lifetimes of active citizenship, promote new knowledge in the field, and build an enduring and broadly shared ethos of citizenship and public service across the university. …

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