Why belonging matters for college students’ academic engagement : antecedents and consequences of sense of classroom belonging




Lee, Jeonghyun, Ph. D.

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The purpose of this dissertation project was to explore the mechanisms through which sense of belonging affects academic engagement—behavioral, emotional, and cognitive—over time in varying college classroom situations. The study also examined the potential contribution of some course attributes to either facilitating or thwarting students’ sense of belonging on academic engagement. Moreover, this project sought to identify group differences between ethnic or racial minority students and non-minority students in terms of the effect of sense of belonging on academic engagement. Using structural equation modeling (SEM), the study tested a short-term longitudinal model that hypothesized the predictive relations among course attributes, sense of classroom belonging, and academic engagement at the beginning and toward the end of the semester. Participants were 295 undergraduate students from a public university in a southwestern state of the U.S., who were recruited via an online website dedicated to a subject pool that was offered through the department of Educational Psychology. Participants were asked to respond to online survey items in relation to one of their undergraduate courses, choosing from those courses they were taking in the current semester the course that had a subject pool requirement. Results from the study showed that participants’ sense of belonging in the classroom positively predicted academic engagement later in the semester, even after their motivation and course attributes were held constant. The results also indicated that mode of instruction and classroom goal structure had significant direct effects on participants’ perceived belongingness at the beginning of the semester and subsequently indirect effects on their course engagement over the semester. Finally, the multigroup SEM analysis revealed that the effect of sense of belonging was almost equally beneficial for ethnic or racial minority and non-minority groups, suggesting that sense of belonging generally matters for both groups. However, a more nuanced look at the data suggests that for the ethnic or racial minority group, it may be more important to nurture a supportive classroom climate and provide ample opportunities to connect with peers. Overall, results provide insights into the powerful impact of sense of belonging in college students’ engagement in the classroom.


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