Faculty Engaging in Discussion

Wabash National Study

Wabash National Study logo

NC A&T Wabash National Study Co-Directors:

  • Dr. Karen Hornsby, Assistant Professor, Department of History
  • Dr. Scott Simkins, Director, Academy for Teaching and Learning

The Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education is a national longitudinal study investigating the “teaching practices, programs, and institutional structures” that promote or retard student growth in a variety of liberal education outcomes, including cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, moral reasoning, and integrative learning, as well as outcomes related to leadership, intellectual curiosity, openness to diversity, and overall well-being. As of fall, 2009, over 50 U.S. institutions participated in the Wabash National Study, covering more than 17,000 students from three annual cohorts of first-year students. The study will follow these student cohorts for at least four years, "collecting student and institutional data at multiple points over the course of the study."

Developing an Institutional Narrative about Student Learning. More broadly, the Wabash National Study explores “the extent to which students develop because of their college experiences, the conditions that contribute to this development, and ways that institutions can more readily assess and act on this knowledge to enhance their impact.” The Wabash National Study employs a comprehensive collection of assessment tools, including surveys and measures of academic proficiency, to measure student growth over four years. The results of the Wabash National Study, because of their breadth, allow institutions to develop an “institutional narrative” describing the strengths and weakness of their students and their learning environment, while also suggesting ways in which that learning environment might be improved.

NC A&T State and the Wabash National Study

North Carolina A&T State University began participating in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education in fall, 2007 (the second cohort), with 722 freshman students (nearly half the incoming freshman class) completing a series of assessments in fall, 2007 and 315 students in this same cohort completing a related series of assessments in spring, 2008. These same students will complete a third (and final) set of assessments in spring, 2011.

Partners in Inquiry about Student Learning. Overall, we view our participation in the Wabash National Study as a partnership between the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College and North Carolina A&T State University. That partnership continues to yield valuable insights into the conditions, practices, and institutional structures that affect student growth at A&T. The data generated from the Wabash National Study help us identify and address gaps in student learning and serve as the basis for further inquiry into the causes of those gaps. We have already learned much from the Wabash National Study team and their associated Teagle Scholars on how to use Wabash National Study data to create “conditions that matter” for improving student learning outcomes and the overall learning environment for our students. We look forward to new insights we will gain about our students and their learning as we continue to work together on projects aimed at "building a culture of inquiry."

For a detailed summary of how we're using the Wabash National Study to better understand the learning environment at NC A&T State University and the actions we're taking based on Wabash National Study results, see the "progress report" below.

  • Progress Report - October 2009 - Understanding the Practices, Programs, and Institutional Structures that Contribute to Student Success at North Carolina A&T State University: Using the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education to Improve Student Learning, Retention, and Graduation Rates

NC A&T State University - First-year Wabash National Study Results

Overview of NC A&T First-year Wabash National Study Results. First-year results for NC A&T from the Wabash National Study have highlighted a variety of factors impacting student success at NC A&T:

  • Entering NC A&T freshmen exhibit low critical thinking, writing, and moral reasoning skills relative to other Wabash National Study institutions. Little measured improvement in these skills is exhibited over the first year.
  • Entering NC A&T freshmen suffer from an “aspirational gap.” Students report very high life aspirations but fail to display the dispositions, skills, and behaviors that will help them achieve these aspirations, a result that appears to hold throughout the first year.
  • NC A&T freshmen report higher levels of academic challenge and high faculty expectations than at other large institutions participating in the Wabash National Study. However, overall levels remain low for all institutions.
  • NC A&T freshmen report experiencing lower levels of good teaching and faculty interest in student learning than students at other large universities in the Wabash National Study.
  • Variation in student growth within the institution is generally larger than the mean difference between NC A&T and other institutions. We need to better understand which practices, programs, and institutional factors are most effective for which students.
  • NC A&T freshman students report doing less reading and writing than their peers at other large universities. They also spend much less time studying; over 60% of NC A&T freshman in the Wabash National Study report studying fewer than ten hours per week outside of class.

NC A&T State University Wabash National Study Results (Reports). The links below provide you with direct access to the full Wabash National Study Data Reports for NC A&T State University.

Wabash Results and First-Year Retention. In addition, analysis of NC A&T Wabash National Study and NC A&T institutional data completed during a May, 2009 Wabash National Study Retention Workshop reveals important relationships affecting second-year retention of students. As expected, credit hours completed during the freshman year are a strong predictor of persistence to the sophomore year. Further, successful credit hour completion during the first year is also statistically linked to a set of teaching variables such as prompt feedback, course organization, and clarity of learning outcomes, areas of weakness for NC A&T identified in the Wabash National Study results.

Transcript Analysis-Retention Patterns of NC A&T Wabash National Study Cohort. Follow-up transcript analysis (conducted in summer, 2009) of the 722 NC A&T freshman students participating in the initial cohort of Wabash National Study clearly indicates the importance of successful credit hour completion during the first year. Of the 86 students in the cohort who left the university after their first year, over 70% completed fewer than 24 credit hours (min. full-time load); of those who returned for a second year at NC A&T, over 70% completed more than 24 credit hours. Viewed another way, over 25% of NC A&T students who completed fewer than 24 credit hours during their freshman year did not return for a second year; only about 5% of NC A&T students who completed more than 24 credit hours failed to return. A diagram illustrating the retention paths of the original NC A&T Wabash National Study cohort is linked below.

Active Responses to NC A&T Wabash National Study Results

First-year Wabash National Study results for NC A&T are being used to develop and implement initiatives aimed at promoting increased academic performance and retention.

Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 Activities

(1) Wabash-Provost Scholars Program. Wabash-Provost Scholars are a group of undergraduate NC A&T students trained to conduct focus group sessions that provide a more in-depth view of specific Wabash National Study results. The Wabash-Provost Scholars initiative led to a comprehensive student-developed report of focus group results and recommendations in spring, 2009, along with a presentation to the Provost and other Academic Affairs staff. Two Wabash-Provost Scholars also joined together with Drs. Simkins and Hornsby to lead a session on their experiences at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching at Greensboro in February, 2009.

A new cohort of Wabash-Provost Scholars was trained in late September, 2009 and began data collection and analysis related to a new Supplemental instruction (SI) project initiated in fall, 2009. This group is conducting focus group sessions in spring, 2010 related to student time use and supplemental instruction. A new cohort of Wabash-Provost Scholars was trained in February, 2010 and will also be conducting focus group sessions, data analysis, and report-writing during spring, 2010. A project report and presentation to top university administrators, covering 2009-2010 Wabash-Provost Scholar activities, is planned for April, 2010.

(2) Early Alert–Supplemental Instruction Initiative. Analysis of NC A&T Wabash National Study data led to the development of an extensive Early Alert/Supplemental Instruction (EA/SI) initiative in fall, 2009 aimed at increasing first-year retention rates. This initiative combines early and frequent feedback to freshmen students who are underperforming in their courses with required supplemental instruction led by tenure-track and lecturer-level instructors. Three University Studies courses (UNST 120, UNST 130, and UNST 140) served as pilot courses in fall, 2009. Self-reported survey and focus group data collected from SI participants indicated high satisfaction with the program and improved learning outcomes.

Two of the professors who participated in fall, 2009 were selected by the Academy for Teaching and Learning to conduct a more detailed Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project during spring, 2010. The project will involve both faculty-led and student-led SI sessions, with Wabash-Provost Scholars conducting focus group sessions to determine effectiveness and satisfaction with the program. The faculty members plan to write up their experiences for publication in a SoTL journal. We hope to use lessons learned from this project to inform future SI initiatives on campus, in particular for high-failure-rate courses across the university that enroll high percentages of freshman students.

(3) Academy for Teaching and Learning Workshops. The Academy for Teaching and Learning led a series of workshops in fall, 2009 aimed at improving clarity of course learning outcomes, promoting prompt feedback, and enhancing pedagogical practices - areas highlighted as relative weakness for NC A&T in the Wabash National Study first-year results. The ATL also hosted a workshop by Donna Engelmann, Alverno College, that illustrated how engaged pedagogical practices, intentional assessment, and careful attention to clarifying learning expectations can improve institution-wide student-learning outcomes. Alverno is an internationally recognized leader in these areas. ATL workshops during spring, 2010, including a Teaching Essentials series, continue to focus on improving basic pedagogical and assessment-related practices.

Wabash National Study Links

The Wabash National Study maintains an extensive web site describing the project and its results, including a project blog. Direct links to Wabash National Study information are provided below.

Center for Inquiry at Wabash College (IN) Support

North Carolina A&T State University has been generously supported by the Center for Inquiry at Wabash College (IN), the group leading this national four-year longitudinal study. In addition to providing assessment materials, data analysis, and comprehensive reports, members of the Wabash team, along with accompanying Teagle Scholars, have made multiple trips to the NC A&T campus, sharing A&T’s Wabash Study results with students, faculty, staff, and administrators. In addition, the NC A&T Wabash National Study co-directors have been invited to participate in multiple Wabash National Study-related workshops at Wabash College. Our work at NC A&T State University would not be possible without this support.