AVDF/ACLS Fellowships for Research on the Liberal Arts

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) has been awarded a $355,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (AVDF). The grant will support a new program, the AVDF/ACLS Fellowships for Research on the Liberal Arts, which will provide funding and data training to up to five scholarly projects on the impact of liberal arts education using the College and Beyond II (CBII) database.

While a liberal arts curriculum continues to be a distinguishing feature of undergraduate education in the United States, measuring the impact on students via empirical analysis has long been difficult to carry out.  Further, many higher education institutions do not have access to data on the skill attainment, civic involvement, or well-being of their students after they leave, so they cannot know which educational experiences or instructional practices are most valuable for bringing about the outcomes that they seek to provide for students.

AVDF/ACLS Fellowships for Research on the Liberal Arts will support much needed scholarly research utilizing the extensive CBII dataset to examine how the liberal arts impact a variety of learners at different stages and aspects of their lives and careers. The CBII database, created by a team of scholars and staff at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan and originally created with support from the Mellon Foundation, includes more than one million student records, 50 million course enrollments, and alumni surveys for 2,800 respondents.

As noted by Paul Courant, the original primary investigator of the CBII project and former Provost at the University of Michigan, on the 2022 release of the first data sets, “College and Beyond II…will allow us to explore the connection between undergraduate education and student outcomes ten years after college completion. These outcomes include important behaviors and mindsets such as democratic and civic engagement, openness to diversity, psychological well-being, and career adaptability.”

“ACLS is excited to partner with the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations on this important research initiative,” said ACLS Vice President James Shulman. “As the rising cost of higher education leads students and families to question the value of a college education, we need a fuller understanding of the varied impacts of a liberal arts education.  Research conducted with the Foundations’ support, the rich data of CBII, and this competitive fellowship program will deepen our collective understanding of an approach to education that aims for more than the specific pre-professional preparation for a graduate’s first job.”

Starting in September 2023, ACLS will invite project proposals from empirically minded humanists and social scientists, working in or adjacent to academia addressing workforce issues, physical or mental health policy, issues surrounding civic participation, and the other issues associated with a broad and deep exposure to the arts and sciences.  Before the advent of today’s powerful administrative data management systems, it was impossible to study the full path of a student’s curricular journey – the composition of their classes and the characteristics of their classmates – in the way the CBII now allows; by connecting these textured data on the undergraduate experience to later life outcomes, researchers will have the chance to test the association between educational experiences and understanding later life outcomes.

The five AVDF/ACLS Fellows for Research on the Liberal Arts will each receive $45,000 toward their projects, participate in a two-day data training led by the research team at ICPSR, and convene for a subsequent symposium to share their findings with each other and invited journalists.

The timeline for the fellowship is as follows:

  • Application period opens: Fall 2023
  • Application review period: early 2024
  • Fellowship awards announced: Spring 2024
  • Fellows participate in a two-day data training with ICPSR at the University of Michigan: July 2024
  • Culminating symposium presenting all five fellowship research projects: July 2025

As with all other ACLS fellowship and grant programs, the AVDF/ACLS Fellowships will be awarded based on a highly competitive, peer-reviewed process.

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The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations were organized in 1952 and are supported by two trusts established by Mr. Arthur Vining Davis. The Foundations aim to bear witness to Mr. Davis’ successful corporate leadership and his ambitious philanthropic vision. Since their inception, the Foundations have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools, and divinity schools.