Civic Learning in Higher Education: What Works?

April 2024 Measurement Working Group Convening

Janett Cordovés , Senior Program Director, College Presidents Consortium, Jessica Sutter , Chief of Civic Learning Initiatives, Anna Gallos , Program Associate for Project Administration

April 13, 2024

For the past two years, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars has spearheaded efforts to measure civic learning in higher education as part of the College Presidents for Civic Preparedness initiative. The Working Group on Strategies for Measuring Citizen Preparation launched in May 2023 with a diverse group of 13 institutions and has continued with monthly virtual meetings. Leveraging the measurement framework from Mapping Civic Measurement, participants designed and launched studies focused on elements from the Civic Readiness Map (critical thinking, civic identity, public decision-making) and the Civic Opportunities Map (critical thinking, inclusion and empathy, and agency).

In April 2024, Citizens & Scholars brought together the group for an in-person convening at Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University to share findings, discuss strategies, ideate on collective paths forward, and cast a vision for future studies.

The gathering kicked off with a conversation between College Presidents for Civic Preparedness members Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia and Claremont McKenna College President Hiram Chodosh. Their discussion touched on the connection between civic education and mental health and the essential need for higher education to civically prepare the population given its responsibility as a public good.

We also heard from a diverse group of funders on the importance of our work and the need for the field to have updated and useful metrics that can easily be translated for the public. This esteemed funder panel encouraged us to expand accessibility and ensure all communities are participating in designing and centering citizen preparation on our college campuses.

Jessica Sutter and Anna Gallos facilitated a session on “Understanding Student Contributions to Measurement Research”. To center the young people that our work impacts, Jessica and Anna began the session by asking the diverse participants to recall who they were at 20 years old and then share what advice they might give their 20-year-old selves. These conversations segued into the rest of the session, where Working Group participants could reflect on their research projects and share how they involved students in their research.

Discussions during the convening highlighted the need to incorporate neurodivergent learning modalities and different approaches to reach Gen Z students, such as creating more intentional places to embed measurement within discussions, third places (social surroundings), focus groups, and leveraging technology for gamification.

Other emerging themes included:

  • A need to focus on media literacy and disinformation.
  • A desire to focus on dialogue.
  • Institutionally defining terms such as conflict resolution.
  • Supporting students in defining and creating their own sense of civic identity and civic agency, and;
  • Inviting students to be equal partners and centering them as co-researchers and co-developers in our tool and metric development.

Additionally, despite agreed-upon focus areas of the “maps”, we saw the diverse ways in which these elements were interpreted and represented on each campus, further emphasizing a need for tools and measures that are applicable for use in diverse educational settings. We concluded our time with commitments to the group, accountability to the field, and envisioning our way forward. We look forward to sharing initial learnings with the field soon!

College Presidents for Civic Preparedness has been supported by the ECMC Foundation, Einhorn Collaborative, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, One8 Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Lumina Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, and Teagle Foundation, with individual campuses providing support for their own related projects. Special thanks to Einhorn Collaborative and Lumina Foundation for supporting the efforts of our Measurement Working Group.

Additional thanks to Andrew J. Perrin and Ruth Pullum at the Johns Hopkins University and to Emily Minton and Luke Bateman at Georgetown University. The convening would not have been possible without their support!

Measurement Working Group Learning Objectives

  • Develop, build on, and showcase campus-based assessment of one or more key civic learning/engagement outcomes
  • Increase familiarity with assessment work on civic preparedness in higher ed
  • Develop/actively participate in a community of practice on assessing citizen preparation.
  • Discuss and share with the field the gaps, limitations, effective practices, and solutions
  • Become a “Bell labs” or pilot group/action tank whose work can pave the way for broader national engagement and potentially systemic resources, such as federal funding.

List of Participants

  • David Campbell | Director of the Notre Dame Democracy Initiative and Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy, Notre Dame University
  • Logan Dancey | Assoc. Professor in the Department of Government, Wesleyan University
  • Fred Duttlinger | Asst. Director of Civics Literacy, Purdue University
  • Abby Flores | Executive Director, Institutional Philanthropy and Strategic Initiatives, Claremont McKenna College
  • Sylvia Gale | Exec. Director of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, University of Richmond
  • Dianna Graves | Assistant Vice President; Dean of Students, Claremont McKenna College
  • Vernon Grigg | Executive Director, Claremont McKenna College
  • David Kirkpatrick | Executive Director, The Madison Center for Civic Engagement, James Madison University
  • Elizabeth Matto | Director of the Center for Youth Political Participation, Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University
  • Bryan Murdock | Associate Vice President of Community Partnerships, Montclair State University
  • Lisa Nishii | Professor and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Cornell University
  • Ei Noe | Assistant Director, Student Engagement and the Bonner Scholars Program, University of Richmond
  • Diana Owen | Professor and Director and Principal Investigator of the Civic Education Research Lab, Georgetown University
  • Lynn Pelco | Senior Fellow, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, University of Richmond
  • Jennifer Pollard | Executive Director and Associate Provost of Career Education, Wellesley College
  • Julie Remold | Director of Evaluation for the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford University
  • Marissa Rice | Research Specialist, Intergroup Dialogue Project, Cornell University
  • Blake Stack | Sr. Associate Director of Student Engagement and Director of the Bonner Scholars Program, University of Richmond
  • Sarah Stroup | Director, KWD Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, Middlebury College
  • Rachel Sumner | Associate Director, Intergroup Dialogue Initiative, Cornell University
  • Colleen Wynn | AVP for Institutional Research and Assessment, Claremont McKenna College

Stay Engaged

Get More News

Join our mailing list to get more news like this to your mailbox.

Support Our Work

Help us invest in the talent, ideas, and networks that will develop young people as effective, lifelong citizens.

Ways to Support Us