Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

John A. Saltmarsh

Second Advisor

Jay R. Dee

Third Advisor

Andrew Perumal


One purpose of higher education is to prepare students to participate in a democratic society. This mission is particularly relevant today as the institutions of democracy and the ideas that underpin them are in recession. Despite this, evidence shows that higher education is not achieving its stated goal of fostering civic engagement. The creation and maintenance of an institutional culture can be an effective way to teach civic engagement.

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (CEC) signifies that a college or university has institutionalized community engagement. By comparing student civic engagement outcomes at institutions that earned the classification to a control group of institutions that never applied, and to institutions that applied unsuccessfully, it is possible to determine whether student outcomes vary due to a culture of community engagement.

This study used a quasi-experimental non-equivalent control group design to test whether a culture of community engagement impacts student civic engagement outcomes. Study participants were 27,423 undergraduates at 127 colleges and universities in the United States. Participants completed two surveys created by the Higher Education Research Institute: The Freshman Survey (TFS) and the College Senior Survey (CSS). Data from four cohorts of students—those who graduated in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019—were analyzed.

Paired sample t test shows civic engagement increased slightly during college. Multiple regression analysis showed identity characteristics and experiences during college predicted a student’s civic engagement. There is generally no difference in civic engagement by race at TFS, but at CSS many students of color have lower civic engagement than white students. Joining a fraternity or sorority and studying abroad predicted a higher civic engagement score and a higher likelihood to vote. Being a varsity athlete predicted a lower civic engagement score and a lower likelihood of voting. An increase in social agency predicted the highest increase in civic engagement.

Difference-in-differences analysis (DiD) generally showed no significant difference between the change in civic engagement outcomes based on CEC classification status. However, stratified results show that culture impacts students differently based on their civic engagement upon entering college and suggests that campus culture normalizes an average level of civic engagement.