The relationship between student involvement and the development of moral reasoning among first-year law students

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education

First Committee Member

James D. McKinney - Committee Chair


Relatively few studies have examined the influence of law school experiences on the moral development of law students. A multiple regression single-sample design was used to determine the relative contribution of 6 student involvement measures and 5 student input variables (age, formal education, gender, LSAT score, race/ethnicity) to the prediction of individual differences in change in principled moral reasoning on the Defining Issues Test (DIT). The dependent variable was residual change scores on DIT P-scores. Data were collected at the beginning and end of the first year of law school on 61 full-time first-year law students enrolled in a full-time day juris doctor program who completed the DIT and a follow-up involvement survey drawn in part from Astin's (1993) follow-up survey. A principal components factor analysis resulted in 6 derived variables (scales) that assessed Outside School Activities, Organized Peer Activities, Diversity/Ethical Issues, Study Groups, Athletic Activities, and Group Projects.A multiple regression analysis indicated that all 11 variables in the full model accounted for 44% of the variance of change in moral reasoning. The stepwise backward elimination procedure eliminated 8 variables that only accounted for 4% of variance. The final model of 3 significant predictors---Organized Peer Activities, LSAT score, and Diversity/Ethical Issues---accounted for 40% of the variance in residual change scores in principled moral reasoning. Contrary to expectations, the two significant involvement measures were negatively related to the residual change scores. Only students' LSAT scores were positively related to residual change scores in moral reasoning. Finally, while there was no significant pre- to posttest change in moral reasoning for the sample as a whole, the DIT posttest P-scores of the research sample were significantly less than the DIT posttest P-scores of Willging and Dunn's (1981) comparative sample of law students.


Law; Psychology, Developmental; Psychology, Cognitive; Education, Higher

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