Arthur Vining Davis Foundations-funded Program to Support Scholarly Projects on the Impact of Liberal Arts Education

ACLS is pleased to announce awardees of the 2024 AVDF/ACLS Fellowship for Research on the Liberal Arts, a program made possible through a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

The fellowship provides funding and training for scholarly research utilizing the extensive College and Beyond II (CBII) database to examine how experiencing a liberal arts education has shaped students at different stages and in various aspects of their lives and careers. The database includes more than one million student records, 50 million course enrollments, and alumni surveys for 2,800 respondents.

As the rising cost of higher education leads students and families to question its value, there is an urgent need for more data-based evidence on the ways that a liberal arts education affects students’ lives. The size and institutional diversity of the CBII database enables research that higher education institutions cannot conduct on their own; moreover, it includes hard-to-capture data on the skill attainment, civic involvement, and well-being of their students after they leave campus.

This two-year fellowship supports the development and dissemination of research to foster a more widely held understanding of the many ways in which a liberal arts education can affect a graduate as they pursue career paths and their lives.

“The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have been proud, longtime supporters of liberal education in America,” noted John Churchill, Director of Programs.  “We are thrilled to be working with ACLS in this effort to better understand the way in which liberal education influences important life outcomes, including non-economic outcomes like well-being and civic engagement.”

After a rigorous, interdisciplinary peer review process, ACLS has named four AVDF/ACLS Fellows for Research on the Liberal Arts:

Radomir Ray Mitic
Assistant Professor of Higher Education, William & Mary
Examining the Impact of Public Liberal Arts Education on Cultivating Civic and Democratic Citizenship: Causes and Results
This project will utilize the CBII dataset to examine associations between liberal arts education and the development of qualities of engaged citizens such as openness to diversity and challenge and civic and democratic behavior.

Gabe Avakian Orona
Postdoctoral Scholar, Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, University of Tübingen, Germany
Understanding How Liberal Arts Experiences Influence Well-Being and Civic Engagement
This study addresses the causal relationship between liberal arts experiences, psychological well-being, and civic engagement.

Elizabeth D. Pisacreta
Director, Educational Transformation, Ithaka S+R
Using Student Data to Understand the Economic Value of a Liberal Education
The project will apply a framework of the features of a liberal arts and sciences educational experience developed by Ithaka S+R to individual-level data in CBII, to investigate how students’ exposure to a liberal educational experience is associated with their academic and labor market outcomes.

Sirui Wan
Postdoctoral Scholar/Research Associate, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Changing Study Fields During College: Understanding Patterns of Major Switching and Its Relations to Students’ Short- and Long-Term Outcomes
This project examines the patterns of switching college majors and their short- and long-term impact, from graduation rates to earnings 10 years after graduation, and whether these patterns differ by gender, race, and/or social class.

Each fellow receives up to $45,000 toward their projects and will participate in a two-day data training led by the research team at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan. Fellows will also convene for an in-person symposium in Summer 2025 to share their findings.

In addition, recognizing the potential of her early-stage project to impact research in this area, ACLS has awarded a Project Development Grant of $5,000 to Osasohan Agbonlahor, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Her project, Exploring Non-Monetary Consequences of College Debt Among Liberal Arts Students, will utilize the CBII dataset to investigate the non-monetary consequences of college debt such as student characteristics, institutional factors, and academic experiences, as well as post-baccalaureate levels of civic engagement, homeownership, and marriage and family formation.

ACLS Vice President James Shulman noted how philanthropic support has accelerated our collective capacity to develop quantitatively rich understanding of the nature and benefits of the liberal arts. “Building on the Mellon Foundation’s significant investment in supporting the creation of a powerful database, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have taken the next step – fostering empirical research that can enrich our understanding of how studying the liberal arts shapes students’ lives. These projects represent the kind of research that we, as a sector, desperately need: investigating with some precision how this mode of education affects the wide range of a graduate’s life, including but not limited to their earnings at the time of their first job.”

NameCurrent InstitutionDisciplineAffiliated Academic Societies
Osasohan AgbonlahorNorth Carolina Agricultural and Technical State UniversityEducationAmerican Educational Research Association (AERA)

Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP)
Radomir Ray MiticWilliam & MaryHigher EducationAmerican Educational Research Association (AERA)

Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE)

Comparative & International Education Society (CIES)
Gabe Avakian OronaUniversity of TübingenEducation and Educational PsychologyAmerican Educational Research Association

American Psychological Association
Elizabeth D. PisacretaIthaka S+REconomics of Education
Sirui WanUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonEducation and PsychologyAmerican Educational Research Association

American Psychological Association