Learning Outcomes of Underrepresented Students

CIC’s report, An Analysis of Learning Outcomes of Underrepresented Students at Urban Institutions, examines the learning outcomes as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) of low-income and first-generation students attending urban colleges and universities, and provides comparisons with similar students at non-urban institutions. The 19 CIC member institutions that participated in the study are part of the “Creating Pathways to Educational and Economic Opportunity in Urban Colleges and Universities” project, generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The report is authored by Josipa Roksa, associate professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia, and co-author of Academically Adrift. This new report for CIC reveals that, with few exceptions, students at independent institutions show learning gains during their college years at or above expected levels of performance on the CLA. The report suggests that the glass is at least half full: students at smaller, independent institutions who study the liberal arts do well academically, no matter what "at risk" factors are in their backgrounds.

 Key Findings


Among the main findings of the report are:

  • After controlling for individual-level characteristics, particularly academic preparation, there are no differences in CLA performance among different groups of students. This finding holds in both urban and non-urban institutional settings.
  • Urban and non-urban independent colleges do equally well in educating the students they enroll, as assessed by the CLA. They also do equally well in educating different groups of students, including students from underrepresented groups.

An important inference to be drawn from this study is that smaller, independent institutions provide learning environments that level the playing field for students of differing backgrounds—low-income, first-generation, urban, non-urban. Academic performance is not systematically lower for students in some of these groups than it is for others. Students with these so-called "at risk" background characteristics who enroll at independent institutions will graduate with academic performance levels demonstrated on the CLA that are equal to students who have similar pre-college academic records but are not members of one or more of these disadvantaged groups.

This new report also notes that all colleges and universities enroll students with widely differing levels of academic performance. Roksa urges campus leaders to strive for supportive learning environments for all students, studying carefully which students perform well and how their successes can be replicated, as well as which students do not perform as well and the specific strategies that are needed to improve their outcomes.

Download a PDF of the full report.


 Contact Information

​For questions about An Analysis of Learning Outcomes of Underrepresented Students at Urban Institutions, please contact CIC Senior Vice President Harold V. Hartley III at hhartley@cic.nche.edu or (202) 466-7230.