The CLA Longitudinal Study aims to understand the patterns and social consequences of student learning in higher education. We examine patterns of student learning by looking at the links between individual experiences; institutional contexts; and the development of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills, as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). To understand the consequences of student learning, we look at how students’ experiences in college relate to  their post-college life outcomes. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa codirect this project.

Phase 1: Freshman & Sophomore Year: In the first phase of the study, we administered the CLA to a group of over 2,000 college students at the beginning of their freshman year (Fall 2005) and again at the end of their sophomore year (Spring 2007). We also collected data on students’ background, college experiences, and course-taking patterns (collected via a survey and college transcripts). Our analysis of data from phase one illuminates how various factors influence cognitive growth in higher education during the first two years of college. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is a book based on the first phase of the project.

Phase 2: Freshman Through Senior Year: In phase 2, we extended our analysis of student learning through graduation. The CLA was administered to students again in their senior year of college (Spring 2009). Similar to the first phase of the project, we collected additional data on key student variables. Findings from phase 2 are presented in the policy report Improving Undergraduate Learning: Findings and Policy Recommendations from the SSRC-CLA Longitudinal Project (SSRC, 2011).

Phase 3: Post-Graduation Outcomes: The third phase of the study tracks a subsample of the same group of students as they transition from college to the workforce or graduate school. We followed up with graduates one year and two years after graduation to collect data on a range of financial and social outcomes, such as employment status, debt, and civic engagement. Our analysis illuminates how various factors, including higher-order skills, influence graduates’ life course outcomes. Initial findings were discussed in the report Documenting Uncertain Times: Post-Graduate Outcomes of the Academically Adrift Cohort (SSRC, 2012). Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates (University of Chicago Press, 2014) is a book based on phases 2 and 3 of the project.


The CLA Longitudinal Study has been supported by funding from the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Teagle Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Ford Foundation.