Civic Enagement Cluster Project


The Civic Engagement Cluster project evolved as part of the second phase of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's five year initiative to engage higher education institutions in examining and transforming themselves to better serve the needs of students and society. In conjunction with the Kellogg Foundation, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education created the first cluster comprised of institutions committed to significant institutional transformation to strengthen civic engagement for students. 

In November 1999, NERCHE and the Kellogg Foundation invited selected institutions previously funded by the Foundation to join a cluster of ten institutions committed to promoting civic engagement as essential to American higher education.  The RFP specified that the Cluster would address two broad issues for higher education:

  • Facilitating institutions already engaged in significant change initiatives to strengthen civic engagement among undergraduates while serving as national leaders in establishing effective approaches to preparing socially responsible citizens.
  • Through the ongoing documentation and evaluation of individual institutional change processes, develop models of institutional transformation to inform other institutions of higher education.

The project concluded in July 2001.  

Project Premises and Purposes

The primary premise of the Cluster Project was that: 

Higher education must reaffirm that liberal learning and civic engagement are key to preparing students for responsible and satisfying lives in a pluralistic democracy. 

To accomplish this goal, NERCHE established a Cluster of ten institutions to work synchronously and collaboratively to transform their educational practices and institutional environments to fully incorporate civic engagement and learning across the institution.  By working together as a Cluster, it was expected that a more effective transformational process would occur than for each institution working alone. 

Specifically, the Cluster Project achieved the following outcomes:

  • Provided a structure through which institutions could learn from each other as they developed and implemented their individual initiatives.
  • Derived greater knowledge about the institutional change process to assist other institutions engaging in transformation.
  • Created an advocacy base for encouraging other institutions to engage in similar transformation efforts.
  • Improved understanding of how diverse institutions can work together to achieve shared goals to maximize the effectiveness of future clusters.

NERCHE selected institutions to participate in the Civic Engagement Cluster which represented a mix of institutional transformation initiatives and change strategies, as well as key sectors of higher education in terms of size, overall educational mission, geographic region, and diversity of student population.  This institutional mix was designed to provide a solid base of knowledge about strategies for institutional transformation, for educating students for responsible citizenship, and for understanding the effectiveness of the collaborative cluster model.

Criteria for Selection

 1.  Current involvement and commitment to civic engagement

  • Are the proposed activities reflective of the institution's mission, size, and mix of academic programs and student population?
  • Is there active leadership from the institution's President and other senior academic and student affairs administrators?
  • Are the following factors represented in the range of current institutional initiatives?
    • Does the institution include service learning and community service as part of its academic programs or are these student activities primarily co-curricular, outside of the academic requirements and experience?
    • Does the institution provide a range of possibilities for student learning or does it have one primary initiative which incorporates civic engagement into both curricular and co-curricular activities?
    • Do the institution's initiatives involve students, faculty, and administrators from different schools/colleges and academic departments, or are they primarily concentrated in one unit?
    • To what extent have the faculty been involved in and embraced the goals of civic engagement?
  • To what extent does the current institutional involvement provide a solid base for developing new initiatives with the potential to serve as models for institutional transformation for other colleges and universities?

2. Institutional Transformation

  • Does the institution's vision of transformation, as reflected in its current initiatives and through its proposed strategies for change, provide a solid base for achieving the overall goals of the Cluster Project to both encourage and learn about institutional transformation?
  • Does civic engagement and civic learning form a central factor in the institution's strategies of transformation?
  • Do the evaluation plans suggest the ability to monitor new program development, gains for students on desired outcomes, and the change process?

3.  Strategies for Strengthening Civic Engagement

  • What is the nature and scope of the proposal and what are the potential results of the proposed activities and initiatives for furthering institutional transformation?
  • Do the proposed activities and implementation strategies appear to be well-conceived in regard to achieving the institutional and student learning outcomes identified by the institution?
  • Do the proposed initiatives involve a range of academic and co-curricular interventions?
  • Do the institution's intervention strategies include a range of faculty and administrators from across the institution?

4.Leadership Potential

  • Does the institution have a well-conceived plan to provide leadership for additional civic engagement clusters?
  • Do the institution's current community connections and affiliations with other colleges and universities provide an appropriate base for initiating civic engagement cluster activities?

5. Budget

  • Does the budget provide a realistic plan for supporting the proposed activities and the leadership team in accomplishing the project goals?
  • Does the institutional support for the Cluster Project, both allocated funds and in-kind contributions, provide an indication of the strength of institutional commitment for the project.

6.  Contributions to the Institutional Mix

  • Does the institution represent well a key sector of higher education?
  • Is the institution well positioned to provide leadership for that sector?
  • Does the institution contribute to geographical variability?
  • Do the institution's civic engagement initiatives and change strategies complement other potential participants?
  • Does the institution contribute to the goal of the Cluster to reach a wide range of diverse students?

Institutions and Bases for Final Selection

Alverno CollegeExplicit amplification of key dimensions of their ability based curriculum.  Excellent model for interactions between assessment and educational improvement.  Focus on the civic and political role of women.

Kansas State University:  Wide range of programs currently underway.  Strong leadership team.  Major institutional budget contributions.  Well positioned to provide leadership for creating additional clusters with eight community colleges and other institutions in the context of the Western Kansas Community Service Consortium and with Haskell Indian Nations University, as well as through national partnerships with which it has established student exchanges.

Morehouse College and Spelman College:  Based on each College's historic mission of developing leadership of Black men and of Black women respectively, potential for synergistic initiatives focused on civic engagement.  Ideally positioned to provide leadership for Atlanta University Consortium and for other HBCU's.  The Morehouse proposed initiative on racial justice should inform other Cluster participants.  Spelman's initiatives build on an established base of ongoing institutional curricular and co-curricular activities. 

Olivet College:  Continued development and institutionalization of major transformation, including portfolio assessment related to civic engagement.  Proposed initiatives include innovative curricular developments involving civic engagement which could provide a model for other institutions.

Oglala Lakota College:   Tribal college. Only participant where faculty have participated in and become certified for character education.  Key role in Sioux nation building.  Well positioned to provide leadership to two- and four-year tribal colleges.

Portland State University:   Consolidating and amplifying gains to date in WKKF supported University Studies program. Extending civic engagement to graduate and professional education and developing institutional structures for involving a wide range of faculty in civic education.  Building civic engagement expectations into transfer relationships with regional community colleges.

Rutgers University (New Brunswick Campus):  Strong focus on curriculum and faculty development, including preparing future faculty through a Civic Learning Instructor's Certificate for graduate students.  Thoughtful concern about implications for pedagogies as well as content.  Will develop a Civic Education Internet Clearinghouse to put best practices online.  Potential for providing statewide leadership through the New Jersey Civic Education Consortium.

University of Denver:  Very strong track record in incorporating civic engagement and civic learning across the institution.  Excellently positioned to provide leadership for Rocky Mountain states and the southwest.  Solid base of experience with institutional transformation focused on civic engagement to share with other institutions.

University of Texas at El Paso:  Hispanic serving institution.  Recognized leader among Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities institutions and involved with National Civics Coalition.  Building on prior community based education grants from WKKF and solid commitment to the El Paso community.