Methods: Topics

Learning Communities

Developed by Kindra Cotton, Educational and Organizational Leadership

This gateway examines theory, research, and practice as they relate to the U.S. college student population. The information contained on this site is intended to provide a basic understanding of college student literature. (Note: some article files listed below reside in proprietary databases and must be browsed from the domain.)

Research on College Students

Transitions to College and College Student Population Trends

This article provides a careful look at 31 consecutive surveys from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) freshman survey. Since 1966 the annual freshman survey of the CIRP has been completed by more than 9 million entering freshmen at more than 1,500 accredited colleges and universities. Utilizing a tabulation of the data, this article provides an interesting and informative portrait of the changing character of American college students. The report provides an overview of three decades of data from the CIRP, and highlights key findings for higher education and for American society at large.

  • Kuh, G. (1993). In Their Own Words: What Students Learn Outside the Classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 30, 277-304.

Psychosocial, Cognitive, and Racial Identity Development Theories

  • Terenzini, P. T., Yaeger, P. M., Bohr, L., Pascarella, E. T., & Amaury, N. (1997). African American college students' experience in HBCUs and PWIs and learning outcomes. University Park, PA: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

    This study examines whether African American students who attend historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have different experiences and perceive the campus climate differently than African American students who attend predominately white institutions (PWIs). The study also examined whether differences in experiences and perceptions of the environment are linked to differential gains in cognitive abilities. The study used data from the National Study of Student Learning, a three-year longitudinal study of about 4,000 students who entered 23 institutions in 1992. Data were gathered in the fall of 1992 and spring of 1993 and included demographic characteristics, scores on the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, and responses on the College Student Experience Questionnaire. The study found students in HBCUs differed from their peers in both entering characteristics and college experiences in a variety of areas. These experiences, however, were not associated with differences in first year cognitive gains. (article abstract)

Student Retention, Attrition, and Enrollment Management

Racial Diversity and Educational Benefits

  • Gurin, P., Dey, E., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational out comes. Harvard Educational Review, 72 (3), 330-366.

    In the current context of legal challenges to affirmative action and race-based considerations in college admissions, educators have been challenged to articulate clearly the educational purposes and benefits of diversity. In this article, Patricia Gurin, Eric Dey, Sylvia Hurtado, and Gerald Gurin explore the relationship between students’ experiences with diverse peers in the college or university setting and their educational outcomes. Rooted in theories of cognitive development and social psychology, the authors present a framework for understanding how diversity introduces the relational discontinuities critical to identity construction and its subsequent role in fostering cognitive growth. Using both single- and multi-institutional data from the University of Michigan and the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the authors go on to examine the effects of classroom diversity and informal interaction among African American, Asian American, Latino/a, and White students on learning and democracy outcomes. The results of their analyses underscore the educational and civic importance of informal interaction among different racial and ethnic groups during the college years. The authors offer their findings as evidence of the continuing importance of affirmative action and diversity efforts by colleges and universities, not only as a means of increasing access to higher education for greater numbers of students, but also as a means of fostering students’ academic and social growth. (article abstract)

  • Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1998) Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 21 (3), 279-302.

    This article summarizes findings from classic and contemporary research on campus racial climate according to a four-dimensional model: (a) an institution's historical legacy of inclusion or exclusion of various racial/ethnic groups, (b) its structural diversity, or the numerical representation of various racial/ethnic groups, (c) the psychological climate of perceptions and attitudes between and among groups, and (d) the behavioral climate, of campus intergroup relations. For each dimension, the article recommends ways to enhance educational policy. (article abstract)

Student Activism

  • Levine A. & Cureton, J. (1998). Student Politics: The New Localism. The Review of Higher Education, 21 (2), 137-150.

    College students and administrators reveal that undergraduates have lost faith in the nation's social institutions, distrust government, and reject well-known political leaders. Students are issue oriented and desire change. Confident in the efficacy of their generation, they have chosen to act locally in the community and on campus, where consumerism is a growing reality. Although campus activism is on the rise, its dominance by small affinity groups, its local focus, and its peaceful, consumer tactics hide the strength of this 1990s reality. (article abstract)

  • Hurtado, S., Engberg, M., Ponjuan, L., & Landreman, L. (2002). Students' Precollege Preparation for Participation in a Diverse Democracy. Research in Higher Education, 43 (2), 162-186.

    This study focuses on how students' precollege experiences predisposed them to three democratic outcomes: (1) ability to see the world from someone else's perspective; (2) beliefs that conflict enhances democracy; and (3) views about the importance of engaging in social action activities. Data was analyzed from three flagship universities as part of a nationally funded research project and it was found that first-year females are more likely than males to report values and beliefs consistent with democratic outcomes. Participation in race/ethnic discussions, student clubs, and volunteer work, as well as studying with students of different groups and discussing controversial issues are significant predictors in each model. Results also indicate that students might be unprepared to negotiate conflict in a diverse democracy, suggesting that college engagement will play a key role in fostering the development of democratic citizenship. This study also provides new measures of democratic outcomes to assess the impact of diversity and service learning initiatives. (article abstract)

  • Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (1998). Studying College Students in the 21st Century: Meeting New Challenges. The Review of Higher Education, 21 (2), 151-165.

    The confluence of several demographic, institutional, economic, and technological changes may not only alter fundamentally the way we think about what it means to go to college but also change the methodologies we now use to assess the impact of college. This article outlines and discusses the implications of four such forces: the changing undergraduate student population, the increasing importance of community colleges, shrinking financial support for higher education, and the rise of information technology. (article abstract)

  • Pike, G. (2000). Influence of Fraternity or Sorority Membership on Students' College Experiences and Cognitive Development. Research in Higher Education, 41 (1), 117-139.

    In recent years, the role of fraternities and sororities on college campuses has come under increasing scrutiny. Results of the National Study of Student Learning (NSSL) indicate that membership in a Greek organization can have a negative effect on students' cognitive development, particularly during the first year of college. The present research sought to assess the generalizability of the NSSL findings to first-year students attending a research university in the Midwest. In contrast to the NSSL findings, results indicated that Greek students had higher levels of involvement and gains in general abilities than did non-Greek students. Moreover, Greeks' gains in cognitive development were the result of their social involvement. Implications for the Greek system, as well as implications for the study of college effects, are discussed. (article abstract)

  • Wallace, D., Abel, R., & Roppers-Huilman, B. (2000). Clearing a Path for Success: Deconstructing Borders Through Undergraduate Mentoring. The Review of Higher Education, 24 (1), 87-102.

    The purpose of this research is to examine students' interpretations of their involvement with some of the formal mentoring programs that serve first-generation, low-income students. The article used "formal mentoring" to designate the deliberate matching of TRIO university personnel with students from historically underrepresented groups. While these relationships may not meet every component of the multiple definitions of mentoring, TRIO personnel are, by contract, mandated to mentor students in their programs. This study focuses on the nature of these relationships as the students understand them.

Relevant Journals

Founded in 1959, the Journal of College Student Development (JCSD) has been the leading source of research about college students and the field of student affairs for over four decades. JCSD is the largest empirical research journal in the field of student affairs and higher education, and is the official journal of the American College Personnel Association.

Research in Higher Education, (Journal of the Association for Institutional Research), is an essential source of new information for all concerned with the functioning of postsecondary educational institutions. The journal publishes original, quantitative research articles which contribute to an increased understanding of an institution, aid faculty in making more informed decisions about current or future operations, and improve the efficiency of an institution.

The official journal of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), The Review of Higher Education provides a forum for discussion of issues affecting higher education. The journal advances the study of college and university issues by publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, reviews, and research findings. Its broad approach emphasizes systematic inquiry and practical implications. Considered one of the leading research journals in the field, The Review keeps scholars, academic leaders, and public policymakers abreast of critical issues facing higher education today.

Useful Resources on the Web

The American College Personnel Association, headquartered in Washington, DC at the National Center for Higher Education, is the leading student affairs Association that advances student affairs and engages students for a lifetime of learning and discovery.

The American Council of Education is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions. It seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. This link to resources includes the ACE Online Information Center, ACE library and information services, Internet Sources for Higher Education Policy and Research Topics, and other helpful information.

The Association for Institutional Research (AIR) is a professional association of more than 3,100 institutional researchers, planners, and decision-makers from higher education institutions around the world. AIR exists to benefit its members and help advance research that will improve the understanding, planning, and operation of higher education institutions. The site provides a map of Internet resources for institutional research, that categorizes the information according to its perspective field (i.e. Teaching/Research, Data, Electronic Publications, Technology in Higher Ed, etc.).

The Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) promotes collaboration among its members and others engaged in the study of higher education through research, conferences, and publications. ASHE values rigorous scholarly approaches to the study of higher education and practical applications of systemic inquiry. ASHE is a scholarly society with about 1,900 members dedicated to higher education as a field of study. It is committed to diversity in its programs and membership, and has enjoyed extraordinary success in involving graduate students in Association activities.

The CIRTL Diversity Institute brings together a critical mass of scholars to produce materials and resources that will reform STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) higher education based on the idea that STEM students' learning is enhanced when classes, laboratories, and discussion sections foster engagement of all students irrespective of race, gender, or socioeconomic background. The objective of the Diversity Institute is to create and disseminate a resource base that will enable faculty and future faculty to enhance diversity in STEM fields by creating inclusive classrooms. (website overview)

The National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges (NASULGC) is the nation's oldest higher education association and is a voluntary association of public universities, land-grant institutions and many of the nation's public university systems. Dedicated to supporting excellence in teaching, research and public service, NASULGC has been in the forefront of educational leadership nationally for over a century. The site includes information on the association's publications as well as the variety of issues and programs affecting State Universities and Land-grant Colleges.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators is the leading voice for student affairs administration, policy and practice. NASPA provides professional development, promotes exemplary practices, and is a leader in policy development. NASPA helps senior student affairs officers and administrators, student affairs professionals, faculty, and other educators enhance student learning and development. NASPA promotes quality and high expectations; advocates for students; encourages diversity; and excels in research and publication.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing education data in the United States and other nations. The site should be used to view and use publications and data products on education information.

DiversityWeb is the most comprehensive compendium of campus practices and resources about diversity in higher education that you can find anywhere. The site is designed to serve campus practitioners seeking to place diversity at the center of the academy's educational and societal mission.


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