Center on Race and Social Problems

Increasing Institutional Identification of College Students as a Means of Improving Retention

September 1, 2004 to September 1, 2007
Funded by: 
The Spencer Foundation, Sloan Foundation, and University of Pittsburgh Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies

Retention of college students, especially African American students, is an issue of major concern in the U.S. This study tests the idea that increasing students’ sense of belonging to their university will increase their intended and actual persistence as students at that university. It also explores the impact of a wide variety of other variables on students’ intended and actual retention.

All African American (N=287) freshmen at a large predominantly white university were invited to participate in the first wave of a 3-wave survey and 62% did so. A similar number of their White peers (N=297) were randomly selected to participate, and 76% did so. All these students were invited to participate in two later waves of the survey. Most of both groups (over 90%) did so.

All participating students received surveys including measures of the variables of interest (e.g., sense of belonging, perceived campus racial climate, satisfaction with the university, study habits, intentions regarding their continued enrollment at the university, etc.) at the beginning, middle, and end of their freshman year. In addition, one third of these students were randomly assigned to a condition designed to enhance their sense of belonging to the university. Others were randomly assigned to one of two control conditions in equal numbers. With students’ permission, university records were used to gather information on each participant’s enrollment status at the end of their freshman and sophomore years as well as on additional background variables likely to influence retention, such as SAT scores.

An extensive set of MMC (multilevel model for change, a kind of HLM) analyses were conducted to test the contention that sense of belonging is related to students’ intentions to persist. These analyses led to the conclusion that sense of belonging does predict intentions to persist and that it can be influenced by interventions such as the one used here. Additional analyses are being conducted.