22 SES 12 A, Paper Session
University belonging refers to a student’s sense of school connectedness which is sensitive to one’s perception of self as valued, accepted, respected, and supported within a learning environment which is politically, culturally and geographically authentic in each school (Allen & Kern, 2017). After high school graduation, building upon prior experiences, university students develop a new version of school commitment as a result of their interactions with the members of this new social and academic contexts such as students, faculty, staff, and administrators (Tinto, 1987; Tinto 2017). Completion of this adjustment process successfully and thus creating a strong, healthy bond with the university is highly critical for students’ academic success and psycho-social well-being (Allen, Kern, Vella-Brodrick, Hattie & Waters, 2018). As evidenced by the results of various studies, when students’ sense of belonging is adequately nurtured in higher education systems, the risks of disengagement (Masika & Jones, 2016; Thomas, 2012), alienation and course withdrawals (Freeman, Anderman & Jensen, 2007), and even dropouts (Hascher & Hagenauer, 2010; Ream, & Rumberger, 2008) tend to decrease to a great extent. Interventions aiming to increase the social belonging of university students have been found significantly associated with continous enrollment in the following years (Murphy et al., 2020). However, the lack of this feeling, if not seriously considered, may adversely affect students’ both social and academic life (Pittman & Richmond, 2007; Pittman & Richmond, 2008). Therefore, in order to avoid such undesired outcomes and help students feel themselves as a member of their university, understanding the contextual characteristics and factors that facilitate subjective and collective sense of belonging at postsecondary institutions is crucial (Ahn & Davis, 2020; Hoffman et al., 2002; van Gijn-Grosvenor & Huisman, 2020).
Nevertheless, despite its significance, unfortunately, compared to the attention given to the sense of belonging at the K-12 level, very few attempts have been made to gain more insight about this feeling in higher education (Slaten et al., 2016). Moreover, although the nature of this need has been greatly discussed in motivational (e.g., Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination Theory), relational (e.g., Putnam’s Social Capital Theory, Fiske’s Theory of Social Motives), or sociological theories (e.g., Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development), and widely paid attention in research platforms, there still exist some inconsistencies regarding what is understood from research findings and how they can be applied in educational contexts (Allen & Kern, 2017).
Considering all these gaps, this case study was designed and framed around three basic research questions: (1) What were the factors having influenced the students most in the university selection process?, (2) What are the factors affecting the students’ sense of university belonging?, and (3) What are the factors affecting the students’ sense of departmental belonging? Initially, inspired by the assumptions of Tinto (1987, 2017) regarding the mirroring effect of prior experiences on the sense of university belonging, the factors influencing students’ choice of that specific institution among all universities were explored. Second, in order to contribute to the understanding of how colleges are supposed to build, strengthen, and maintain ‘university belonging’ in their institutions, the factors affecting the development of this feeling have been investigated. Most importantly and different from most of the previous research, this research has additionally focused on the departmental dynamics and their influence on individuals’ sense of departmental belonging. Overall, the results of this study are believed to inform university administration, faculty, and those in charge of the organization of both academic and social facilities/activities about how to promote and sustain this sense in all aspects of the school system.
A case study (Yin, 2018) was conducted to determine the factors underlying university selection, university belongingness, and department belongingness of students having enrolled at a newly established, private, and city university in Ankara whose medium of instruction was English. The maximum variation sampling method was utilized, and the subjects differed in terms of their grade levels and departments. A total of 10 undergraduate university students (half females; three seniors, five juniors, and two sophomores) participated in the study. Their ages ranged from 19 to 30. Of all the participants, two enrolled in the department of Psychology; two in English Language Teaching; one in Guidance and Psychological Counseling; one in Business Administration; one in Economics; one in Industrial Design; one in Mechanical Engineering; and one in Industrial Engineering. Their grade point average scores were between 1.77 and 3.56. Data were collected via one-on-one semi-structured interviews with 14 questions. The questions attempted to delve into the factors influencing participants’ university selection process, how they feel at their universities and departments, and the reasons behind these feelings. Each interview was face to face, lasted approximately 45 minutes, and was audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. In order to analyze the data, content analysis with an inductive approach was used (Patton, 2002). Five researchers analyzed each transcript independently, and discussions on codes continued until consensus was reached. Once all of the interviews were coded, data across cases were compared to ensure consistency within the group of participants. Finally, considering the frequency and pattern of the responses, the factors affecting participants’ university selection and their sense of belongingness to their university and departments were summarized.
Regarding the university selection process, the results pointed at four important factors having influenced the participants most, namely occupational motivation, university exam scores, advice of family members, and autonomous decision making. Other prominent factors, though less frequently reported, were branding, campus atmosphere, desire to live with family, the experience of family members, declaration of major at the end of the first year, newly established university, and career guidance. Major factors contributing to participants’ university belongingness were taking an active role in university events and activities, small student population size, relationship with faculty, quality of academic staff, and English as a medium of instruction. On the other hand, factors such as the location of the university, lack of campus area, and physical facilities were alleviating the participants’ sense of university belongingness. Besides, the impact of some factors, such as perceived university prestige and recognition, the relationship with peers, and university administrators’ attitudes and behaviors, differed among the participants. Major factors that facilitate students’ sense of departmental belongingness were found to be the relationship with peers, faculty members (attitude, expertise in discipline, teaching style, and communication with students), departmental curriculum, physical facilities of the department (such as classrooms, common areas, faculty offices), and academic or social activities organized at the department. For instance, the participants mostly regarded a cooperative or supportive relationship with their peers as a positive factor, whereas they perceived a competitive or individualistic environment as a negative factor. However, participants with high occupational motivation tended to have high belongingness even if they reported a negative relationship with peers. This study attempts to unfold the complexity of belongingness at the university and department level.
Ahn, M. Y., & Davis, H. H. (2020). Four domains of students’ sense of belonging to university. Studies in Higher Education, 45(3), 622-634. Allen, K., & Kern, M. L. (2017). School Belonging in Adolescents. Theory, Research and Practise. doi:10.1007/978-981-10-5996-4 Allen, K., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Hattie, J., & Waters, L. (2018). What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30(1), 1–34. doi:10.1007/s10648-016-9389-8 Freeman, T. M., Anderman, L. H., & Jensen, J. M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 203-220. Hascher, T., & G. Hagenauer. (2010). Alienation from School. International Journal of Educational Research, 49. 220–232. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2011.03.002. Hoffman, M., Richmond, J., Morrow, J., & Salomone, K. (2002). Investigating “sense of belonging” in first-year college students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 4(3), 227-256. doi:10.2190/dryc-cxq9-jq8v-ht4v Masika, R., & Jones, J. (2016). Building student belonging and engagement: insights into higher education students’ experiences of participating and learning together. Teaching in Higher Education, 21(2), 138-150. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1122585 Patton. M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Pittman, L.D., & Richmond, A. (2007). Academic and psychological functioning in late adolescence: The importance of school belonging. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75, 270–290. doi:10.3200/JEXE.75.4.270-292 Ream, R. K., & Rumberger, R. W. (2008). Student engagement, peer social capital, and school dropout among Mexican American and non-Latino white students. Sociology of education, 81(2), 109-139. doi:10.1177/003804070808100201. Slaten, C. D., Ferguson, J. K., Allen, K. A., Brodrick, D. V., & Waters, L. (2016). School belonging: A review of the history, current trends, and future directions. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 33(1), 1-15. doi:10.1017/edp.2016.6 Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change. Paul Hamlyn Foundation, 100. Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. University of Chicago Press. doi:10.2307/40250027 Tinto, V. (2017). Through the eyes of students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 19(3), 254-269. doi:10.1177/1521025115621917 van Gijn-Grosvenor, E.L., & Huisman, P. (2020). A sense of belonging among Australian university students. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(2), 376-389. Yin, R. K. (2018). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
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