Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 355–369 | Cite as

Do liberal arts colleges make students more liberal? Some initial evidence

  • Jana M. Hanson
  • Dustin D. Weeden
  • Ernest T. Pascarella
  • Charles Blaich


The effect of attending college on students’ political ideology has been a controversial topic for many decades. In this study, we explored the relationship between attending a liberal arts college and students’ political views. Compared to their counterparts at other 4-year institutions, liberal arts college students began postsecondary education with more liberal political views, but also made great changes toward liberal political views over 4 years of college. These greater gains persisted even in the presence of important confounding influences such as pre-college political views. In addition, our analyses suggested a global effect of attendance at a liberal arts college on the development of liberal political views. Attempts to explain the causal mechanisms underlying this apparent institutional influence were only partially successful.


College students Liberal arts education Political ideology Liberalism 



This research was supported by a generous grant from the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College to the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. A more extensive version of the report on which this paper is based is available at Center for Research on Undergraduate Education (CRUE) (http://www2.education.uiowa.edu/centers/crue/default.aspx).


  1. Asel, A., Seifert, T., & Pascarella, E. (2009). The effects of fraternity/sorority membership on college experiences and outcomes: A portrait of complexity. Oracle: Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, 4(2), 1–15.Google Scholar
  2. Astin, A. (1977). Four critical years. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  3. Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Bartels, L. M. (2000). Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952–1996. American Journal of Political Science, 44, 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blackburn, R. T. (1972). Tenure: aspects of job security on the changing campus. Research monograph 19. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board.Google Scholar
  6. Bryant, A. N. (2003). Changes in attitudes toward women’s roles: Predicting gender-role traditionalism among college students. Sex Roles, 48, 131–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carifio, J., & Perla, R. (2008). Resolving the 50-year debate around using and misusing Likert scales. Medical Education, 42, 1150–1152. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03172.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davies, J. C. (1965). The family’s role in political socialization. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 361, 10–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dey, E. L. (1996). Undergraduate political attitudes: An examination of peer, faculty, and social influences. Research in Higher Education, 37(5), 535–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eddy, E. (1959). The college influence on student character. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.Google Scholar
  11. Elchardus, M., & Spruyt, B. (2009). The culture of academic disciplines and the sociopolitical attitudes of students: A test of selection and socialization effects. Social Science Quarterly, 90(2).Google Scholar
  12. Ethington, C. A. (1997). A hierarchical linear modeling approach to studying college effects. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. XII, pp. 165–194). New York: Agathon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Feldman, K., & Newcomb, T. (1969). The impact of college on students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  14. Groves, R. M., Fowler, F. J., Jr., Couper, M. P., Lepkowski, J. M., Singer, E., & Tourangeau, R. (2004). Survey methodology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Hastie, B. (2007). Higher education and sociopolitical orientation: The role of social influence in the liberalisation of students. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 22, 259–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Horowitz, D. (2006). The professors: the 101 most dangerous academics in America. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Horowitz, D. (2007). Indoctrination U. New York: Encounter Books.Google Scholar
  18. Hu, S., Scheuch, K., Schwartz, R, Gayles, J.G., & Li, S. (2008). Reinventing undergraduate education: Engaging college students in research and creative activities. ASHE Higher Education Report, Vol. 33(4). San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  19. Iversen, G. R. (1991). Contextual analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Jacob, P. (1957). Changing values in college. New York: Harper and Brothers.Google Scholar
  21. Jacoby, W. (1991). Ideological identification and issue attitudes. American Journal Political Science, 35, 178–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jamieson, S. (2004). Likert scales: How to (ab)use them. Medical Education, 38, 1217–1218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jost, J. T. (2006). The end of the end of ideology. American Psychologist, 61, 651–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jost, J. T., Federico, C. M., & Napier, J. (2009). Political ideology: Its structure, function, and elective affinities. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 307–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jost, J. T., Ledgerwood, A., & Hardin, C. D. (2008). Shared reality, system justification, and the relational basis of ideological beliefs. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 171–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lottes, I. L., & Kuriloff, P. J. (1994). The impact of college experience on political and social attitudes. Sex Roles, 31, 31–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lubke, G. H., & Muthén, B. O. (2004). Applying multigroup confirmatory factor models for continuous outcomes to likert scale data complicates meaningful group comparisons. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 11(4), 514–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mariani, M. D., & Hewitt, G. J. (2008). Indoctrination U.? Faculty ideology and changes in student political orientation. PS: Political Science and Politics, 41(4), 773–783.Google Scholar
  29. Miller, W. (1991). Party identification, realignment, and party voting: Back to basics. American Political Science Review, 85, 557–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. New York Times (2008). Election results 2008: National exit polls. Retrieved from: http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/national-exit-polls.html, January 19, 2011.
  31. Pascarella, E. (2006). How college affects students: Ten directions for future research. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 508–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pascarella, E., Cruce, T., Wolniak, G., & Blaich, C. (2004). Do liberal arts colleges really foster good practices in undergraduate education? Journal of College Student Development, 45, 57–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pascarella, E., Salisbury, M., & Blaich, C. (2011). Exposure to effective instruction and college student persistence: A multi-institutional replication and extension. Journal of College Student Development, 52, 4–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, P. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  35. Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students (Vol. 2): A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  36. Pascarella, E., Wolniak, G., Seifert, T., Cruce, T., & Blaich, C. (2005). Liberal arts colleges and liberal arts education: New evidence on impacts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  37. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2001). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  38. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70, 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rothman, S., Lichter, S., & Nevitte, N. (2005). Politics and professional advancement among college faculty. The Forum, 3(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ryff, C. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069–1081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sax, L. (2008). The gender gap in college: Maximizing the developmental potential of women and men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  42. Seifert, T., Pascarella, E., Goodman, K., Salisbury, M., & Blaich, C. (2010). Liberal arts colleges and good practices in undergraduate education: Additional evidence. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Terenzini, P. T. (1994). Educating for citizenship: Freeing the mind and elevating the spirit. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 7–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Thorndike, R., & Hagen, E. (1977). Measurement and evaluation in psychology and education (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  45. United States Census Bureau (2010). Voting and Registration in the Election of 2008: Population Characteristics. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-562.pdf. January 17, 2011.
  46. Weakliem, D. L. (2002). The effects of education on political opinions: An international study. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 14, 141–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jana M. Hanson
    • 1
  • Dustin D. Weeden
    • 1
  • Ernest T. Pascarella
    • 1
  • Charles Blaich
    • 2
  1. 1.University of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Wabash CollegeCrawfordsvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations