This paper describes "action research" strategies that were employed to assess the process and outcomes of leadership development programs for college students. These methodologies provided evidence that formal leadership development and education programs work on college campuses and that leadership can be taught. Successful outcomes for student participants, their institutions, and their communities were documented. The action research strategy involved multiple stakeholders and assisted in sustaining a social movement to continue leadership development programs on college campuses across the country.
The development of leadership among college students is one of the goals often cited in the mission statements of higher education institutions (Roberts, 1997; Clark, 1985). As Astin (1985, 1991) points out, one of the most frequently espoused aspirations articulated in university mission statements is "to promote an understanding and commitment to good citizenship among its graduates." However, the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities do not engage in formal programs to develop students as leaders.
Over the last decade, however, the study of leadership has been steadily increasing in popularity on college campuses across the United States (Howe, 1996; Huey, 1994, Roberts, 1981, Spitzberg, 1986). Approximately 800 Leadership Development Programs presently exist in institutions of higher education (Schwartz, Axtman, & Freeman, 1998). Despite this record number of formal curricular and co-curricular activities, few studies have rigorously documented the student, institutional, and community outcomes of these programs (Brungardt, 1996; Brungardt & Crawford, 1996; Daugherty & Williams, 1997; Rohs & Langone, 1997). Few descriptions exist of programs with evidence of success that is sustained over time; nor does there exist detailed documentation for future replication and dissemination of effective programs. Although several researchers, theorists, and practitioners have reviewed programs offered in higher education settings (Howe, 1996; Howe & Freeman, 1997; Morse, 1989; Roberts, 1981; and Spitzberg, 1986), little attempt has been made to use this information to create a sustained commitment within higher education to identify, develop, and nurture emerging leaders through leadership development opportunities.
The use of "action research" (Lewin, 1951) was employed to provide evidence that could help accelerate the movement supporting leadership development on college campuses. Action research refers to a methodology used to develop and test programs through continuous collaboration between researchers, program developers, and other stakeholders in a real-life setting to identify and refine effective procedures (Sanford, 1970). Evaluation research was conducted to determine the successful processes and outcomes of leadership education and development programs. While practitioners involved in the leadership movement differ in their definitions of the range of items that constitute leadership development (Fulmer, 1997; Klenke, 1998; Spindler, 1992), it is generally accepted that leadership can be taught (Hashem, 1997). Documenting this assumption has been the challenge of an emerging body of research coined as "learning leadership theory" (Binard and Brungardt, 1997). Therefore, the evaluation work was designed to identify potential models, methods, and themes of effective leadership programs for dissemination to leadership educators, administrators and policy makers.
Scholarship in this area is virtually non-existent (Binard & Brungardt, 1997). This lack of scholarship does not indicate lack of program success, however. Many individual programs engage in traditional evaluation activities, which range from conducting focus groups and interviewing participants to full-scale research involving pre and post testing. …