Research Details

In our research for this book, we did not replicate the vast empirical literature on how college affects students.* Instead, we collected and analyzed narratives and examples of relationship-rich education from diverse students and institutions across the country. To identify where to go and with whom to talk, we wrote to 236 higher education thought leaders—college presidents, higher education and foundation presidents, scholars of undergraduate education, and faculty and staff who have been honored for their innovative work—to ask them a question: Which people, programs, and innovative practices across the spectrum of American higher education have most inspired you of late? We received a total of eighty-four responses (a 36% response rate), highlighting scores of exemplars.

Based on these nominations and our own knowledge of U.S. higher education, we made visits to a relatively representative sample of seventeen campuses, which included community colleges, research universities, liberal arts colleges, a technical college, comprehensive public institutions, and a large online university. Our visits typically were scheduled for one and one-half days on campus, allowing us to meet with many student, faculty, and staff for interviews both individually and in small groups.

Site Visit Campuses

  • Brown University
  • Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College
  • California State University Dominguez Hills
  • Florida International University
  • Georgia State University
  • Hope College
  • LaGuardia Community College
  • Nevada State College
  • New York City College of Technology (CUNY Tech)
  • Oakton Community College
  • Rutgers University-Newark
  • Southern New Hampshire University (online campus)
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Washington

In addition, we interviewed thought leaders either in-person or on the telephone at the following institutions and organizations:

  • Brandeis University
  • Bringing Theory to Practice
  • Columbia College (South Carolina)
  • Elon University
  • Georgetown University
  • McDaniel College
  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • Patrick Henry Community College
  • Pima Community College
  • United States Naval Academy
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Rhode Island
  • Wheaton College (Massachusetts)

Prior to each interview, participants gave written consent to be interviewed and recorded, following a research plan approved by the Elon University Institutional Review Board. All interviews were recorded and later transcribed. We lightly edited quotations for the book to enhance clarity by removing non-lexical vocables and smoothing out grammatical constructions. We received secondary consent from participants for every quote we use and for every time we name an interview subject.

Of our 385 interviews, 204 were of undergraduate students. We collected demographic data on student interviewees to compile the following composite profile:

Median age: 23 (range 18-69)

Gender identity: 67% female, 32% male; 1% non-binary

Number                   Race/ethnicity
114                               White
31                                Black or African American
28                                Asian
47                                Hispanic or Latinx
2                                  Pacific Islander
10                                Bi- or multi-racial

(Interviewees could identify in more than one category)

*We will synthesize the existing research throughout the book. If you would like a comprehensive overview, start with Mayhew et al., How College Affects Students.