The following lists current and previous research at HERI. Click on a header for more information about each study; click again on the expanded header to close the section.

Current Research

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 Promoting Diversity: Access and Engagement in Biomedical and Behavioral Science Research Preparation

Sylvia Hurtado and Mitchell Chang, Principal Investigators


 Becoming Scientists: Practices in Undergraduate Education that Contribute to Degree Completion and Advanced Study in STEM Disciplines

Principal Investigators: Sylvia Hurtado, PhD and Mitchell Chang, PhD

The specific aim of this comprehensive national project is to examine key individual and institutional factors that substantially increase the likelihood that undergraduates, particularly those from underrepresented racial minority (URM) backgrounds, will persist in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) majors, participate in the STEM workforce immediately after college, and/or pursue graduate or professional degrees in STEM fields.

The goals of the project are to:

  • Identify general principles with the intention of informing practice to improve the rate of both STEM degree completion and advancement into graduate studies in related fields for all students
  • Understand opportunity structures for URM STEM students
  • Inform science education policy concerned with increasing diversity in STEM fields at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels

This study is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP). STEP seeks to increase the number of students (U.S. citizens or permanent residents) receiving associate or baccalaureate degrees in established or emerging fields within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The award is classified as a Type 2 grant that supports educational research projects on associate or baccalaureate degree attainment in STEM.

The Project
The Becoming Scientists project is unique in that it will track a large cohort of STEM students longitudinally (from freshman year through six years after college entry) as they move into graduate school or science- and technology-related careers immediately after college. The study’s 2004 baseline survey contains substantial information on over 17,000 URM STEM aspirants attending 204 four-year colleges and universities across the U.S.* A resulting longitudinal database on approximately 65,000 students will be collected. Large samples are desirable to conduct analyses of institutional contextual effects with comparison groups that include underrepresented minority (African American, Latino/a, and Native American), White, and Asian American students in 31 STEM disciplines, as well as URM non-STEM students attending the same institutions. Using the most advanced statistical techniques, the approach focuses on those educational environments (peers, faculty relationships and other campus-facilitated interactions, and institutional characteristics) that have the greatest impact on student outcomes over and above students’ backgrounds and academic preparation.

Benefits to Participating Institutions
Participating institutions include campuses that administered the 2004 CIRP Freshman Survey (TFS) and the fourth-year follow-up 2008 College Senior Survey (CSS). Some campuses may have also participated in the 2005 Your First College Year (YFCY) survey. In addition, a set of institutions has been invited to participate due to their extensive experience providing programs for underrepresented students that encourage them to continue in STEM-related fields and future careers.

Each campus benefits in these specific ways:

  • As is typical with CIRP data, all data collected is returned to the campus with a normative report so that university researchers and administrators can compare their students’ experiences with similar types of institutions. Data are also provided in a format that allows each campus to locally study their students and generate their own reports for specific audiences and program planning.
  • Reports are made available online and highlight the progress of the study since its inception. Similarly, findings for this expanded project will be made available to inform educators and faculty in the disciplines about students’ access, engagement, and aspirations to pursue STEM careers.
  • Campuses can request special reports be generated by staff at HERI for their use from the surveys for a small additional cost.
  • Representatives from the NSF/NIH project team will participate in forums to share data and to showcase promising practices that increase student motivation and participation in STEM majors among underrepresented students.
  • NSF will be regularly informed about the activities of participating campuses and will be highlighted in presentations to staff so that they begin to have a working familiarity with campus efforts and interventions.

The NSF/NIH Project Team
Sylvia Hurtado, Co-Principal Investigator
Mitchell Chang, Co-Principal Investigator
Kevin Eagan, Research Analyst
Lorelle Espinosa, Research Analyst
Monica Lin, Research Analyst
Christopher Newman, Research Analyst
Jessica Sharkness, Research Analyst
Minh Tran, Research Analyst
Paolo Velasco, Research Analyst

*This expanded sample of STEM majors is related to a concurrent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of underrepresented minority students entering careers in biomedical and behavioral science research.

 Spirituality in Higher Education: A National Study of College Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose

Alexander W. Astin and Helen S. Astin, Co-Principal Investigators; Jennifer A. Lindholm, Project Director

What is the level and intensity of spiritual experiences among today’s college students? How are spiritual searching and behavior changing on campus? And what does this mean for higher education institutions and students? Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, this major new program of research tracks the spiritual growth of students during their college years. The study employs a multi-institutional and longitudinal design to identify trends, patterns, and principles of spirituality and religiousness among college students. Eleven broad areas are covered: spiritual outlook/orientation/worldview; spiritual well being; religious/spiritual practices and behaviors; self-assessments of spirituality and related qualities; spiritual quest; spiritual/mystical experiences; attitudes toward religion/spirituality; religious affiliation/identity; theological/metaphysical beliefs; facilitators and inhibitors of spiritual behavior; and compassionate behavior. The study is designed to ensure that all students—regardless of their particular theological perspective or belief system—will be able to respond in a meaningful way.

A pilot survey was administered in Spring 2003 to approximately 12,000 undergraduate students attending a representative sample of 47 baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities who participated in the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey three years earlier. This longitudinal data will provide information on how the college experience impacts students’ spiritual life and development. A revised questionnaire will be administered in Fall 2004 to approximately 90,000 students comprising the entering freshmen classes at a representative sample of 150 baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities. Data from the survey will be widely disseminated in Spring 2005. The long-range design of the project anticipates additional longitudinal follow-ups and new freshman surveys to be conducted every three years to track students’ spiritual growth and assess changes and trends. The study also includes a qualitative component designed to assess the spiritual life of college students in more depth by conducting individual and focus group interviews.

For more details about this project, please click here.

 Spirituality and the Professoriate: A National Study of Faculty Attitudes, Experiences, and Behaviors

Jennifer A. Lindholm, Helen S. Astin, and Alexander W. Astin, Principal Investigators

Building on our ongoing study of the trends, patterns, and principles of spirituality and religiousness among college students and how the college experience influences spiritual development this project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, focuses on how college and university faculty view the intersections between spirituality and higher education. Using data collected as part of the 2004-05 HERI Faculty Survey in conjunction with student data from the College Student Beliefs and Values (CSBV) Survey, we will examine how faculty beliefs and behaviors may influence students’ spiritual development during the undergraduate years. Data collected from the upcoming HERI Faculty Survey will also be used to explore how faculty view their own spiritual expression and development within the context of their academic careers and their institutional work environments.

For more details about this project, please click here.

 Reinforcing Differences: College and the Gender Gap

Linda J. Sax, Principal Investigator

Although the field of higher education is saturated with studies on college impact, surprisingly little research examines whether college differentially affects men and women students. It is important to question how and why gender influences the college experience. Do the factors that influence student development operate differently for male and female students? In other words, do certain college environments or experiences have stronger or weaker effects on women than on men?

This book, The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men (released by Jossey-Bass in 2008), addresses these questions by analyzing the impact of college separately for male and female students. Data are drawn from a nationally representative sample of approximately 17,000 college women and men who completed both the 1994 CIRP Freshman Survey and the 1998 College Student Survey at 200 colleges and universities. The book examines the impact of college experiences on a comprehensive array of student outcomes in the areas of academic achievement, self-concept, life goals, career development, physical and emotional health, political and social attitudes, and satisfaction with college. The book also examines trends in the gender gap across numerous domains using 8 million CIRP responses between 1966-2006.

 The Impact of Single-Gender High Schools on Students’ Transition to College and First-Year Development

Linda J. Sax, Principal Investigator

Funded by the National Coalition of Girls' Schools (NCGS), this study informs the policy discussions regarding single-sex secondary schooling. CIRP Freshman Survey data from Fall 2005 are used to compare students from independent and Catholic single-sex high schools with graduates of independent and Catholic coeducational private high schools. The study focuses on students' academic preparation, self-confidence, attitudes, values and career interests.
Final Report

 Diverse Learning Environments: Assessing and Creating Conditions for Student Success


 Other HERI Research

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Previous Research

 Understanding the Effects of Service Learning: A Study of Students and Faculty

Alexander W. Astin and Lori J. Vogelgesang

Funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies (USA) Inc., this three-year study continues the work of HERI to understand how service learning is affecting students and faculty in higher education. The student study examines the post-college impact of participating in service learning during the undergraduate years. Life After College: The Survey of Former Undergraduates is designed to explore how the college experience impacts life after college, including participants' values, opinions, and current activities. In particular, the data from this study will help us understand adults' involvement and non-involvement in their communities. This longitudinal survey will mark the second follow- up the 1994 freshman cohort, and explores how service learning and other college experiences are shaping their lives as adults. This cohort was initially followed up in 1998 for the HERI study: How Service Learning Affects Students.

The faculty study will survey faculty across the nation, in order to understand their beliefs, work, and participation in service learning pedagogies. The 2004-2005 Faculty Survey will place a special emphasis on community engagement, examining faculty teaching practices, attitudes and perceptions of institutional climate. This study represents the second HERI study of faculty community service work. The results of the first study (conducted in 1995) are reported in: Community Service in Higher Education: A Look at the Nation's Faculty.

Items of Interest
Download PDF Article
Download Powerpoint Presentation
The Lasting Impact of College on Young Adults’ Civic and Political Engagement, ASHE Conference Paper: November, 2005.
Using National Data to Inform Teaching and Academic Initiatives: Understanding and Strengthening Faculty and Student Engagement. Presentation at the AAC&U Conference, Providence, November 2005.
Research Report Number 2, April 2005.
Press Release: Volunteering and Community Involvement Declines After Students Leave College
Can Service Learning and a College Climate of Service Lead to Increased Political Engagement After College?, AERA Conference Paper: April 2005.
Conceptualizing, Measuring and Understanding Students’ Post-College Civic Engagement: What we know about the impaction of service-learning. Presentation at the Continuums of Service Conference, Portland, April 2005.  
2004 Post-college Follow up Survey
The 2003 Press Release announcing this study can be found here.

 Transfer and Retention of Urban Community College Students (TRUCCS)

Linda J. Sax, Principal Investigator

This project marks a collaboration between HERI and the University of Southern California to study the factors leading to retention, transfer, and other forms of success for students enrolled in the largest community college district in the nation Los Angeles. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this three-year longitudinal project involves the administration of a paper questionnaire to 5,000 students at all nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District, with a paper and web-based follow-up conducted one year later.

 Kellogg Forum on Higher Education For the Public Good

This project, funded by the Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, is housed at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It seeks to increase awareness and engender commitment via an action agenda relevant to the public service role of higher education in the United States. The programmatic efforts of the Forum are carried out in three areas: leadership dialogues with education leaders to foster conversations about the public service mission; the promotion of partnerships to connect research to practice by linking public service research dissemination outlets and professional associations; and the influence of policy and perceptions related to the way in which universities and colleges act on their missions. The Higher Education Research Institute has provided leadership in the design of the national dialogues and has hosted one of the leadership dialogues at Oxnard, California. In addition, in collaboration with the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Higher and Post-Secondary Education, the Institute has held an intergenerational research symposium at UCLA on the topic of higher education for the public good. The symposium engaged senior scholars, newly emerging scholars and foundation officers in developing strategies for strengthening the capacity of higher education’s scholarship to serve the public good.

Proceedings from the symposium are available on the publications page.