Project Description

Higher education plays a central role in ensuring that all graduates are prepared to live and work in a society where one out of three Americans will be a member of a racial/ethnic minority and most of the growth in new jobs will require a college degree. In order to prepare students to participate in a diverse democracy and increase student engagement with diverse perspectives, colleges have developed a wide range of initiatives that include such practices as community service learning programs, facilitated intergroup dialogues, and a variety of curricular initiatives. However, we have yet to understand how students develop cognitive, social, and democratic skills through campus initiatives and informal interactions with diverse peers during college. One of the primary objectives of this project is to understand the link between diversity and learning on college campuses and to extend the development of promising practices among participating institutions. We aim to explore the following:

-How colleges are creating diverse learning environments and are actively preparing students to live and work in an increasingly complex and diverse democracy;

-The role of the diverse peer group in the acquisition of important cognitive, social, and democratic outcomes both inside and outside of classroom environments;

-Student outcomes that can be best achieved through specific kinds of initiatives designed to increase student engagement with diverse perspectives.

Collaborative research and programmatic activities will take place on eight to ten large, public institutions with variation in their educational practices and diversity of the student body. Different methods will be used to collect information on cognitive, social cognitive and democracy outcomes: a longitudinal survey of students, several focused classroom-based studies, institutional records, and student focus groups. Each campus will have a campus liaison who will work with researchers at the University of Michigan and will establish a campus team to ensure the success of the project. It is expected that each campus will be able to utilize student data in future planning activities and share promising practices that may serve as a model for other institutions across the country.

The project is a significant attempt to bring empirical evidence to inform the practice of educating a diverse student body. It intends to move beyond the current affirmative action controversy to provide action and discussion about the types of education that will be necessary for citizenship in a diverse society with a common destiny. Timed to coincide with the national elections, we have a unique opportunity to learn about student orientations regarding self-interest or public interest, their conceptions of democracy, and engagement in formal democratic processes. Institutions are searching for a new vision and are eager to acquire research and theory that can guide practice. Therefore, this project is important in revitalizing higher education's mission to prepare a diverse student body for future democratic citizenship and has the endorsement of the American Association for Higher Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the American Council on Education. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.