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Research Articles

Vol. 27 No. 3

A Comparative Assessment of Approaches to Studying Institutional Climates for Political Learning and Participation in Democracy

June 30, 2021


In 2018, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project (ADP) and Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) formed a 3-year partnership to explore two approaches to studying institutional climates for political learning and participation in democracy. The goals were to repeat IDHE’s qualitative approach to examining climates through case studies conducted by a team of outside researchers and to test a second approach—an internal institutional self-study pursued with IDHE guidance. We review these methods and offer a comparative assessment of their efficacy for studying an institution’s political climate, as well as a brief summary of the qualitative case studies’ findings. We conclude that (1) qualitative case studies of political climate are powerful assessment tools and (2) the self-study method with external guidance or coaching holds promise for scalability and potential to effect campus change but faces significant obstacles to successful implementation.