Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Impact of Residential Learning Communities at Four-Year, Public, Midwest Universities on Students’ Self-Reported Levels of Civic Engagement

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

C. Carney Strange (Advisor)


This dissertation focused on the impact of participation in residential learning communities (RLCs) at five four-year, public, Midwest institutions on first-year students' selfreported levels of civic engagement. Such impact was assessed through examining the main and conditional effects of participation on five dimensions of civic engagement—volunteerism and service to the community, responsibility to the common good, civic empowerment, understanding of and appreciation for diversity, and moral values development. Furthermore, it investigated how RLC students' input characteristics and a wide range of environmental conditions related to the direction and magnitude of such impact. This dissertation completed secondary analyses of data collected through The 2004 Residence Environment Survey, employing a comparative-correlational research design, with a sample of 1,822 RLC students and 1,820 conventional students. Analyses of variance and hierarchical regression models were completed by using the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) for Windows 8.0. Results indicated that RLC participation produced significant, positive main effects on students' overall level of civic engagement, volunteerism and service to the community, responsibility to the common good, and civic empowerment. Gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, citizenship, father's education, and high school grades also demonstrated significant conditional effects on one or more of the outcome measures used. However, magnitudes of all the main and conditional effects were extremely small. Pre-college motivations for involvement and growth, enjoyment of integrated learning, intellectual challenge, application of knowledge, multiplicity of learning, and integration of academic learning and self-discovery, diverse peer interactions, use of residence hall peer, faculty, and co-curricular resources, sense of belonging to the campus community, and involvement in religious and ethnic activities contributed most to the overall variance in levels of civic engagement for RLC students as a whole and for each major demographic group examined. The findings suggest that institutions would do well to continue to support RLCs through attending to students' pre-dispositions. To further enhance such impact, RLCs might consider greater emphases on the integration of curricular and out-of-class learning and providing students opportunities to interact with peers from diverse backgrounds and views. Recommendations for future research were suggested.