Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership

Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership

Susan R. Komives
University of Maryland
John Dugan
University of Maryland

The importance of college student leadership development, attention to civic engagement, and the pervasive role of assessing college outcomes have recently converged. After decades of college leadership development activities being largely focused on positional leaders, the last 20 years of leadership efforts have led to leadership majors, minors, certificate programs, a range of co-curricular experiences, rope courses, service-learning, and numerous other opportunity points for many college students to learn about leadership and focus on their own leadership development (Zimmerman-Oster & Burkhardt, 1999). Enhancing students’ leadership efficacy is increasingly a widely embraced college outcome (NASPA/ACPA, 2004), indeed, several institutions are identifying leadership as their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) in their regional re-accreditation.

Partially funded by a grant from the ACPA Educational Leadership Foundation and the NASPA Foundation, the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs (NCLP) and a University of Maryland research team are conducting a national multi-institutional study of leadership to assess college students’ leadership outcomes and the environmental experiences that contribute to leadership development. Colleges often use specific models of leadership development, but general measures of leadership studies have made it difficult to truly test specific models (Posner, 2004). This study uses the social change model of leadership (SCM), one of the most widely used co-curricular leadership theoretical frames (HERI, 1996).  Developed by an ensemble of leadership educators with an Eisenhower grant led by Co-PIs Alexander and Helen Astin, the SCM identifies seven values clustered into three groups (i.e., individual, group, and community) along with the transcendent value of change. The set of individual values includes consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment; the set of group values includes common purpose, collaboration, and controversy with civility; and the community set of values includes citizenship. Tyree (1998) operationalized the SCM in her award-winning dissertation and developed the Socially Responsible Leadership Scale (SRLS). A revised scale from this dissertation will be utilized in this study (Appel-Silbaugh, 2005).

The research design is based on Astin’s (1991) college impact model of inputs-environment-outcomes (IEO). By controlling for pre-college experiences, attitudes, and student characteristics, researchers can determine the contribution of various college experiences on leadership outcomes.  College experiences to be examined include the nature of organization involvement, leadership roles, experience with mentoring, study abroad, on campus or off campus work, service learning, and exposure to diversity. In addition, the study will assess each participating institution enabling researchers to develop a taxonomy of leadership programs and determine what combination of program elements may enhance the students’ leadership development outcomes. Subsamples in the study will receive additional items on the nature of campus work, experiences in activism, the student government experience, cognitive development, and factors that operationalize the leadership identity development model (Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen, 2005). Participating campuses may also be including a comparison sample and individual campus questions.

An invitation for participating campuses was posted on the NCLP and ACPA Commission for Student Involvement listservs in the Summer of 2005. After completing an informational survey, 55 campuses were invited to join the study. Campuses include a range of institutional types including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, women’s colleges, religious colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and community colleges. Over 180,000 undergraduates will be invited to participate in this web-based survey between mid-January and mid-March 2006. ACPA and NASPA 2006 Convention programs will present the details of the survey design and methodology. For more information on the study, visit the NCLP web site at:

Findings from the study will contribute to a normative database for continued use of the SRLS and establish base line data for leadership outcomes in diverse institutions. Identification of campus experiences that contribute to leadership development will aid leadership educators to design intentional interventions that more accurately influence leadership outcomes.


  • Appel-Silbaugh, C. (2005). The Revision of Socially Responsible Leadership Scale (SRLS-R). Unpublished report. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.
  • Astin, A. W. (1991). Assessment for excellence: the philosophy and practice of assessment and evaluation in higher education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Higher Education Research Institute. (1996). A social change model of leadership development: Guidebook version III. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.
  • Komives, S. R., Owen, J. E., Longerbeam, S, Mainella, F. C., & Osteen, L. (2005). Developing a leadership identity: A grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 593-611.
  • National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and American College Personnel Association. (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC.
  • Posner, B. Z. (2004). A leadership development instrument for students: Updated. Journal of College Student Development, 45, 443 – 456.
  • Tyree, T. M. (1998). Designing an instrument to measure the socially responsible leadership using the social change model of leadership development. Dissertation Abstracts International, 59 (06), 1945. (AAT 9836493)
  • Zimmerman-Oster, K., & Burkhardt, J. C. (1999). Leadership in the making: Impact and insights from leadership development programs in U.S. colleges and universities. Battle Creek, MI: W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

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