Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P. Barber

Committee Member

Pamela L. Eddy

Committee Member

Matthew Wawrzynski


The COVID-19 pandemic substantially disrupted normal operations at liberal arts colleges (LACs) across the United States, as well as the lives and educational trajectories of their undergraduate students. This dissertation collected data from 775 undergraduate LAC students enrolled in two colleges in the U.S. South during the spring 2021 semester about their fall 2020 semester pandemic college experiences. The purpose of this study was to elicit students’ perspectives on their LACs and the college experience during the pandemic— as well as their reported sense of belonging and intent to graduate from their current institution— in order to identify potential short- and long-term implications for LACs. This study identifies seven key liberal arts college elements that students reported consistently valuing before and during the pandemic. A majority of study participants indicated the LAC elements would be more important to them after the pandemic than before it. Despite a range of classroom experiences that included both online and hybrid options, as well as variations in living arrangements including living at home, participants consistently reported moderate to strong sense of belonging to their college communities, and more than 90% of participants intend to graduate from their current institutions. These findings contrast with the substantial personal disruption students reported was due to the pandemic, with a mean score of 7.5 out of 10 on a COVID-19 disruption scale for all participants. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are offered to support LAC faculty, staff, and administrators seeking to learn from the pandemic student experience.



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