Assessing the Impact of College on Students: A Four-Decade Quest to Get It Approximately Right

  • Ernest T. PascarellaEmail author
Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR, volume 34)


In this chapter I describe a four-decade career that has focused on assessing and understanding the impact of post-secondary education on students. That career has been built around two straightforward, if somewhat complex, activities. The first activity involved conducting original research on college impact, primarily using data sets that I had a major role in creating. The second activity involved the development of large syntheses of the existing research on college impact. Despite four-decades of rather intense work on these two activities, I have never been able to develop an understanding of college impact that was more than approximate and tentative in nature. Although my success has been limited, I offer several observations about the essential methodology and organization of college impact research that may be useful to other scholars who carry on the work.


College students College impact Attrition Self-selection Longitudinal research Self-reported gains Individual differences Equality of outcomes Conditional/interaction effects Between-college effects Within-college effects Collaboration in research Qualitative approaches Design versus statistics 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies, 491 Lindquist CenterUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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