Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Fred J. Galloway, EdD; Robert Donmoyer, PhD; Thomas G. Plante, PhD


compassion, community service, community service-learning, Greek life, higher education, immersion trips, Leadership studies, mixed methods study, social change, undergraduate college students, University of San Diego (San Diego, CA)


While American colleges and universities are unparalleled in their ability to produce disciplinary-based knowledge through research and scholarship, their ability to encourage students to use the information and methods about which they are learning to create positive social change has lagged. Aware of the magnitude of today's global issues and dissatisfied with the current disparity between the world's reality and university curricula, scholars have begun to re-imagine the role of higher education in forming the leaders who will face our most pressing problems. Founded to provide education integrated with the formation of values, a significant number of Catholic colleges and universities claim the cultivation of compassion as a primary purpose. The mission statements of such institutions frequently reference goals such as "preparing leaders dedicated to compassionate service" (University of San Diego, 2004). The ambition of such statements, however, is unmatched by a rigorous examination of the reality of those objectives. Despite the massive amounts of research conducted on the impact of college on students, almost no empirical work has been done on whether students grow in compassion. Therefore, this explanatory sequential mixed methods study investigated whether University of San Diego undergraduates demonstrated change in compassion across their first two years of study. This study found that the majority of USD students do change in compassion during their first two undergraduate years, but not all in the preferred direction. While half of the students demonstrated an increase in compassion, 35% decreased in compassion and another 15% remained unchanged. Regression analyses established that community service and immersion trips were associated with an increase in compassion while Greek life and community service-learning were associated with a decrease in compassion. Student interviews revealed the importance of, among other facets of university life, campus involvement, community service experience, peer influences, financial pressures, and disorientating experiences. These results extend the work already done on how college affects students by focusing on a heretofore under-examined construct - compassion. This research also contributes to an improved understanding of how universities might better structure their co-curricular offerings in order to achieve their goal of cultivating compassion in their students.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies