Social theorists have long been concerned with the quality of individuals, organizations and institutions that are responsible for enabling and sustaining democracy. At this particular moment of political unease, Measuring Liberal Arts seeks to explore how students experience a liberal arts education, and examine its effects on individuals after graduation, including participation in democratic associations.

Educational institutions have traditionally positioned themselves as central to the cultivation of students’ individual sensibilities, abilities and practices. The liberal arts education, in particular, encourages a relationship to others, methods for social construction and skills for participatory readiness. If this is true, one vital social effect of a liberal arts education should be its ability to produce critically engaged, democratic citizens. Little to no evidence exists to support such a conclusion, however, and interest in liberal arts education is decreasing relative to interest in higher education that advances technological skill acquisition, business preparation and professional development. The question of the effect of a liberal arts education, then, is of great importance to higher education and democratic participation as a whole.

To address these issues, the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) at Columbia University is working with a novel corpus of text-based school data to develop a multi-dimensional measure of the degree to which American colleges and universities offer a liberal arts education. Following this strategy, we aim to identify unique aspects of the liberal arts education, and explore how this experience influences a wide range of individual-level outcomes later in life.

Funding support for Measuring Liberal Arts is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Andrew W. Mellon