How can you measure empathy?

20 Oct 2014
Author: Robert Precht

Today's Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article about how liberal arts colleges sell themselves to prospective students and parents who feel that a more technical education in business or the sciences may better prepare them for careers after graduation. Depauw University's Brian Casey argues that there are lots of things about a liberal arts education that you can't measure. "How do you measure empathy? How do you measure a student’s awareness of cultures other than the ones in which they were raised? You can’t measure those things, but they are important to what we are about here."

I disagree. What about pre-and post-graduate surveys? Ask entering freshman questions probing empathy and ask graduates the same question four years later. Of course no measurement system is perfect but at least it's a start. When designing your public interest project you need to have measurable objectives. Some of the most meaningful objectives are to change people's minds or the way they think about a problem or a social group. Objectives need measurement instruments. Attitudinal changes can be measured by pre- and post- project surveys.