Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version



T. Clark, The Impact of Urbanicity on Student Engagement at Small, Residential Liberal Arts Colleges. PhD diss., Department of Educational Administration, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 2014.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor James Griesen. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Todd Clark


This study analyzed the impact of urbanicity on student engagement at small, residential, liberal arts colleges. Data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) were analyzed from 29 schools (14 rural and 15 urban) using five scalets developed by Pike (2006) and six demographic variables from the NSSE survey. This analysis determined how urbanicity impacts student engagement and which group of students is particularly affected from among the demographics studied. The effects of urbanicity were measured in three ways: aggregate student data, school level data, and within-school data. These analyses showed that urbanicity does significantly impact student engagement, though likely only in a small way. Students at urban liberal arts colleges were found to be more engaged in diversity related activities. Senior-year students at urban colleges spent more time and effort on their academic coursework. First-year student-athletes at urban colleges were more likely to have significant differences in their engagement. The study also found that students at rural colleges spent more time in out-of-class interactions with faculty members. At rural schools, first-year Greek students were more engaged across several measures and first-year, first-generation students were more involved in educationally purposeful activities. The breadth of the analysis in this study identified many areas for further research as well as provided evidence supporting continued use of urbanicity as a critical institutional variable in research on student engagement. The conclusions from this study impact the policies and practices at small, residential, liberal arts campuses as well as provide depth to a variety of other research studies. Families of prospective college students may also benefit from the knowledge generated in this research. Finally, the data identified multiple areas of interest in terms of the frequency and nature of significant variance in student engagement due to the urbanicity of the schools which are beyond the scope of this study and deserve further research.

Adviser: James Griesen