How can we make college work for everyone? (complete w/references)

A challenge facing higher education professionals today is the issue of student success; why do some students persist in college and flourish, while others leave?  Researchers have hypothesized, measured, and made recommendations on this topic using seminal theories such as Astin’s (1984, 1999) theory of student involvement and Tinto’s (1997) updated longitudinal model on student departure and integration. Additionally, Rendón’s (1994, 2002) theory of validation has been found to be effective with non-traditional college student populations while the Social Identity Theory (Brown, 2000) has been used to illustrate the connection between group membership, self-esteem, external behaviors and student success. Despite, or perhaps because of, the plethora of theories, the field remains muddled as investigators are not using the same variables nor employing similar methodologies to define student success, a construct critical to accomplishing the mission of higher education.

As these theories are explored, their similarities become apparent; leading one to believe that they are not distinct and separate, but rather overlapping and evolving from each other. Rather than viewing student development theories as separate entities when attempting to understand the elements contributing to student success, the theories should be viewed as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Each theory contains elements of previous theories, but also builds upon the other to create a more accurate and relevant model for those it seeks to serve.

By understanding the integration and synthesis of applicable theoretical frameworks and conceptual principles related to student success, practitioners and researchers alike can move forward with designing and assessing programs intended to foster success in unique student populations, such as ours. Acknowledging the challenges facing our young people as they transition to college and beyond requires student affairs staff, faculty and counselors to utilize a theoretical framework that includes the student’s past, present and future while understanding the multiple roles these individuals are expected to juggle. Balancing these expectations, roles and outcomes is critical to the success of our student population.

References (I wasn’t kidding!)

  • Astin, A.W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297-308.
  • Astin, A.W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518-529.
  • Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 745.778.  doi:10.1002/1099- 0992 (200011/12)
  • Rendón, L.I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Towards a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33-50.
  • Rendón, L.I. (2002). Community College Puente: A validating model of education. Educational Policy, (16), 642-667. doi:10.1177/0895904802016004010
  • Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities: Exploring the educational character of student persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 686, 599-623.

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