Shimer College Effects on Students: A Retrospective Case Study



Goldman, Jonathan

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This qualitative study explored the effects of attending Shimer College, a small Midwestern Great Books school. The research design was a case study in which I interviewed 16 people who attended Shimer between 1960 and 1976. During the interviews, I tried to learn what aspects of their experiences as Shimer students affected them during their time at Shimer and through their subsequent lives. Most studies on the effects of college on students cover specific domains such as social activism or religiosity and do not address periods beyond the first decade after completing their education. This study used open questions and encouraged the participants to speak on any topics they chose. Working with participants at this stage of their lives also provided a retrospective look at what they considered important decades after the experience. After coding the interview transcripts, a descriptive framework guided my analysis and produced five categories. The five categories included: why the participants attended Shimer, the campus physical environment, the curriculum, academics beyond the curriculum, and post-Shimer outcomes. I then used an iterative process in which I consolidated or restructured some emerging themes to focus them. The eight resulting themes are: Push–Pull (early entrants attended Shimer as an escape while others were attracted to the school’s program), ideal vision (the location, campus, and size), learning how to learn, the curricular interconnectedness, relationships with faculty and with other students, academics outside the classroom, increased self-confidence among the alumni, and the flexible skill sets they used in the workplace. The findings point to aspects of college that mattered to the participants and insights as to the long-term effects of those experiences. These findings inform implications, which include recommendations linked to class size and integration across the curriculum. The analysis concludes with recommendations for future research.



Shimer, Great Books, Student development, Curriculum, Liberal arts, College