The Impact of a Humanities Education
Updated: Apr 20
Over 25 years and in dozens of communities, our graduates tell us that Clemente often marked a turning point in their lives. The course offered them the skills and confidence to pursue degrees, expand their career paths, and build better futures for their families and communities.
Those aren't just anecdotes. In 2019, Clemente partnered with New York-based Metis Associates to examine the ways in which our programming impacts those it serves. In a wide-ranging study of Chicago's Clemente Course--the Odyssey Project-- we confirmed what graduates have said all along: our program helped them see themselves and the world in new ways and realize long-lasting change in their lives.
EDUCATION AND LIFELONG LEARNING
“The program gave me a space to learn and be scholarly when college was closed off to me. It exposed me to people in my community that loved learning for the sake of learning.”
Clemente’s humanities curriculum exposes students to texts and ideas that expand their views and whet their appetite for learning. Since completing Clemente:
75% now consider themselves lifelong learners
The course’s rigor builds their confidence in their abilities to succeed in a college classroom, as well as improved skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking.
They also enroll in higher education institutions at high rates:
73% have taken additional classes since graduating
Half have gone on to complete a degree
CONFIDENCE AND PERSONAL AGENCY
“I feel confidently educated enough to have open discussions with family, friends and strangers about life, world issues and personal development. I feel my mind is not only open but remains open all the time!”
Graduates name increased confidence in various areas of their lives as a key program outcome, recognizing that with confidence comes a sense of agency that enables them to make positive changes in their families and communities. Sixty-seven percent of graduates are confident about supporting themselves and their family, as opposed to 44% before Clemente. Graduates note large impacts in personal confidence, including:
77% say Clemente made them more confident speaking publicly
83% say Clemente made them more confident in making a convincing argument
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
“I set the example and my sister followed me and now my kids want to go to university.”
Many Clemente students are parents, often single heads of household, and modeling the value of education for their children is a potent motivator for enrollment.
80% actively encourage family members to value education
70% are confident or very confident in ensuring a better future for their families
Clemente graduates also report impressive levels of civic engagement, levels that far exceed those of their peers in the 2010 Chicago Civic Health Index study. Seventy-six percent of graduates have volunteered with a civic, community, or environmental organization in the past 12 months, and 27% have served on a nonprofit board or community committee.
74% say Clemente increased their participation in local or national elections
81% say they vote in national elections, as opposed to 59% nationally in 2016
CRITICAL THINKING AND COMMUNICATION
“I’m more outgoing and think deeply instead of just on the surface.”
Since its founding, Clemente has focused on the power of deep engagement and reflection, and graduates tell us that since Clemente they are more confident testing their own judgments against others and questioning things. They also say the program had a significant impact on a variety of skills:
85% say the program impacted their development of thinking and analysis skills
79% say the program developed their writing skills
83% say the program impacted their understanding of people from different cultural or religious backgrounds
LIFE SATISFACTION AND HOPE
“I’ll never forget the experience. It really opened and broadened my horizons.”
It's clear that the impact of a Clemente Course goes far beyond simply building the skills typical of a college classroom. Clemente makes space for personal exploration and allows people to recognize their own abilities and connect to their higher aspirations. It changes how they think about their lives and possibilities.
67% are satisfied with their living situation, compared with 41% before the class
61% are satisfied with their financial situation, compared with 31% before the class
80% believe they can now reach their goals
Ultimately, Clemente's success lies in the way our graduates bring their classroom experience into the world, whether publishing essays, running for office, facilitating book clubs in their neighborhoods, or showing up at the polls. As ambassadors and role models, they and their successes lead the program into its next 25 years.