Student Affairs Educators' Efforts to Teach Undergraduates to Be Engaged Civically: Conceptualization, Practices, and Influences at Six Independent Colleges

Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Jennifer Esposito, Ph.D


Higher education has responded to increased scrutiny and criticism with efforts to reinvigorate its civic mission to prepare students for lives of engagement and contribution to society. This multi-case study examines the efforts of student affairs educators at six small, independent colleges to teach undergraduates to be engaged civically. The study addresses student affairs educators’ conceptualization of civic engagement, role definition and educational practices to advance civic mission, and the factors that influence efforts to teach undergraduates to be engaged civically. The researcher used interviews with student affairs educators and documents analysis to investigate the efforts at each institution. The researcher analyzed data within and across cases to construct a picture of civic engagement efforts by student affairs educators at the institutions. Key findings of the study indicate that most student affairs educators conceptualize civic engagement primarily as community service while they also identify teaching students to be engaged citizens as an important task. Budget constraints and limited views of civic engagement are significant influences. In a majority of the institutions investigated, allocation of resources for civic engagement work is incongruent with college missions. The researcher discusses implications for student affairs practice in the midst of fiscal realities as well as implications for graduate programs that prepare student affairs and higher education professionals. Implications for further research include exploring how senior institutional leaders conceptualize civic engagement and how this influences practices. Additionally, the researcher recommends investigating the influence of race and gender on the conceptualization and practice of civic engagement. Opportunities to infuse the civic mission of higher education within the co curricular experiences of undergraduates are also discussed.

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