Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Pascarella, Ernest T.

First Committee Member

Grady, David

Second Committee Member

Liddell, Debora

Third Committee Member

Paulsen, Michael

Fourth Committee Member

Yarbrough, Donald


This dissertation was the first study to estimate the direct and indirect effects of living-learning community (LLC) participation on a standardized measure of critical thinking using a multi-institution longitudinal research design. It is possible that despite being lauded nationally as an effective institutional intervention, LLCs may simply cluster students predisposed to be more engaged with their environment, more academically prepared, and more open to growth compared with traditional residence hall peers. Recent studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between LLC participation and self-reported growth in critical thinking. The findings of this study demonstrate markedly different conclusions from previous LLC studies exploring the outcome of critical thinking. The results of this study suggest that net of academic ability and background and institutional characteristics, students who participated in LLCs did not demonstrate greater gains on a standardized measure of critical thinking than their peers in traditional residence hall environments.

To investigate the relationship between LLC participation and growth in critical thinking, I performed secondary data analysis from the 2006, 2007, and 2008 cohorts of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education - a longitudinal study of teaching practices, programs, and institutional structures that support liberal arts education. From the initial 53 colleges and universities in the WNSLAE study, I selected a sub-sample of 19 institutions with formal LLC programs to make a more conservative estimate of the reliability of participation in an LLC. The final sub-sample included 435 (25%) students in the experimental group (students participating in LLCs) and 1,282 (75%) students in the control group (students living in traditional residence halls).

This study makes four important contributions to the literature on LLC. First, the longitudinal nature of the WNSLAE data allowed for an estimate of growth during the first-year of college and controls for students' self-selection into the experimental or control groups. Second, the critical thinking module of the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency allowed for an objective measure compared to previous studies that use students' self-reports. Third, this was the first multi-institution LLC study to include liberal arts colleges in the sample. LLCs at liberal arts colleges did not demonstrate a differential impact compared with LLCs at regional and research universities on students' growth in critical thinking. Finally, post hoc analysis did not demonstrate conditional differences of LLC impact between students background, institutional characteristics, or the degree of faculty and peer interaction.


College, Critical Thinking, Living-Learning, Program Evaluation, Residence Halls, Self-Selection


vii, 109 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 95-109).


Copyright 2011 Andrew John Borst