The WPA (Writing Program Administration) Census is a comprehensive study of how writing instruction is delivered in the United States in the early twenty-first century. A team of researchers at several different institutions — including myself, Jill Gladstein, Brandon Fralix, and Jennifer Wells — are in the early stages of this project. Launched in March, 2013, the WPA Census seeks to provide a data-based map of the landscape of writing instruction at two- and four-year not-for-profit institutions of higher education in the United States.
Despite numerous calls for empirical data to ground the design and administration of writing programs and writing centers, this is the first comprehensive study of its kind, including first-year writing, basic writing, writing centers, writing across the curriculum, writing and rhetoric majors and graduate programs, and writing leadership positions. Earlier national surveys have focused on smaller pieces of writing programs, making it difficult to see patterns and trends in program design. By triangulating survey data with content analysis of institutional websites and catalogs, the WPA Census will help educators and administrators across the country to better understand the variety of ways in which writing instruction is delivered in the twenty-first century.
In addition to traditional print publications, the research team will make the analyzed data available through an open-access database. This will allow individuals to gather national data on pressing local questions. Imagine an online database where you can find out how many colleges and universities have a first-year requirement. Not only can you know if they have a FYW requirement, but there may be information on whether those courses are taught by tenure-track faculty or adjuncts, the class size, and basic information on exemption practices. We are designing the database to be searchable by type of institution, institutional size, geographical location, or when we have consent, by the name of the institution. As of September, 2013, the Census had been sent to 2866 individuals at 1673 college or universities that offer four-year degree programs. Once the four-year data has been processed, the Census will be sent to institutions that offer two-year degree programs.
Swarthmore College serves as the institutional home for this project. The College’s IRB has approved the distribution of the Census survey.