The emergence of character in a college character development program : a convergent mixed methods study.


At the birth of America, the framers of the Constitution acknowledged that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom” (Franklin, 1787). Correspondingly, colleges during the 17th and 18th centuries emphasized developing values (Colby, 2002; Randolph, 1990; Ryan, 1993), but during the 20th century, scholarly research replaced character education’s place in higher education (Lickona, 1993). Not only does our free society depend on a people of character, but employers desire character in their staff (Firmin et al., 2009), close relationships rely on character (Cavendish et al., 2012; Karimi et al., 2019), and students have shown to be more successful in school and after graduation with character development (Counsberry et al., 2009). Despite these needs for character development, colleges often choose to prioritize developing skills and scholarly research rather than character development. This convergent mixed methods study aimed to understand the emergence of adult character in character development program (CDP) students at a small private university in Texas. The CDP consisted of seven character traits (integrity, dependability, leadership, service, stewardship, communication, and agility) in three dimensions (behavioral, cognitive, and affective) that provided the a priori framework for data collection and analysis. Two validated instruments (the Defining Issues Test version 2 or DIT2 and Character Growth Index or CGI) and semi-structured interviews with participants who have completed the CDP and participant close personal relationships triangulated to describe the essence of these participants’ character journey through the CDP. The experiences of these participants in a CDP may inspire other colleges to become more intentional about character development. The results of this study affirm the efficacy and impact of a secular multi-dimensional CDP on adult participants. The DIT2 and CGI both indicated statistically significant character growth with medium effect sizes. Participant qualitative responses confirmed quantitative results of affective and cognitive emergence. However, close relationship qualitative responses revealed asymmetric behavioral emergence of character. Participants’ association of specific program elements with character growth asserts the efficacy of many K–12 approaches for adult character formation. This study also suggests that mixed methods are appropriate for studying character formation.



Character education (Higher). Moral education (Higher). Virtue.