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Student Involvement: A Development Theory for Higher Education

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518 Journal of College Student Development
Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory
for Higher Education
Alexander W. Astin
A student development theory based on student
involvement is presented and described, and the
implications for practice and research are
discussed.
Even a casual reading of the extensive literature
on student development in higher education can
create confusion and perplexity. One finds not
only that the problems being studied are highly
diverse but also that investigators who claim to
be studying the same problem frequently do not
look at the same variables or employ the same
methodologies. And even when they are investi-
gating the same variables, different investigators
may use completely different terms to describe
and discuss these variables.
My own interest in articulating a theory of
student development is partly practical—I would
like to bring some order into the chaos of the
literature—and partly self-protective. I and
increasingly bewildered by the muddle of
findings that have emerged from my own
research in student development, research that I
have been engaged in for more than 20 years.
The theory of student involvement that I
describe in this article appeals to me for several
reasons. First, it is simple: I have not needed to
draw a maze consisting of dozens of boxes
interconnected by two-headed arrows to explain
the basic elements of the theory to others.
Second, the theory can explain most of the
empirical knowledge about environmental
influences on student development that re-
searchers have gained over the years. Third, it
is capable of embracing principles from such
widely divergent sources as psychoanalysis and
classical learning theory. Finally, this theory of
student involvement can be used both by
researchers to guide their investigation of student
development—and by college administrators and
Originally published July 1984. Alexander W. Astin, Graduate School of Education, University of California,
Los Angeles.
faculty—to help them design more effective
learning environments.
BASIC ELEMENTS OF THE THEORY
Let me first explain what I mean by involvement,
a construct that should not be either mysterious
or esoteric. Quite simply, student involvement
refers to the amount of physical and psycho-
logical energy that the student devotes to the
academic experience. Thus, a highly involved
student is one who, for example, devotes
considerable energy to studying, spends much
time on campus, participates actively in student
organizations, and interacts frequently with
faculty members and other students. Conversely,
a typical uninvolved student neglects studies,
spends little time on campus, abstains from
extracurricular activities, and has infrequent
contact with faculty members or other students.
These hypothetical examples are only intended
to be illustrative; there are many other possible
forms of involvement, which are discussed in
detail below.
In certain respects the concept of involve-
ment closely resembles the Freudian concept of
cathexis, which I learned about in my former
career as a clinical psychologist. Freud believed
that people invest psychological energy in objects
and persons outside of themselves. In other
words, people can cathect on their friends,
families, schoolwork, and jobs. The involvement
concept also resembles closely what the learning
theorists have traditionally referred to as
vigilance or time-on-task. The concept of effort,
although much narrower, has much in common
with the concept of involvement.
To give a better sense of what I mean by
the term involvement, I have listed below the
results of several hours that I spent recently
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 519
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looking in dictionaries and a thesaurus for words
or phrases that capture some of the intended
meaning. Because involvement is, to me, an
active term, the list uses verb forms.
attach oneself to
commit oneself to
devote oneself to
engage in
go in for
incline toward
join in
partake of
participate in
plunge into
show enthusiasm for
tackle
take a fancy to
take an interest in
take on
take part in
take to
take up
undertake
Most of these terms are behavioral in
meaning. I could have also included words and
phrases that are more “interior” in nature, such
as value, care for, stress, accentuate, and
emphasize. But in the sense that I am using the
term, involvement implies a behavioral compo-
nent. I am not denying that motivation is an
important aspect of involvement, but rather I am
emphasizing that the behavioral aspects, in my
judgment, are critical: It is not so much what the
individual thinks or feels, but what the individual
does, how he or she behaves, that defines and
identifies involvement.
At this stage in its development, the involve-
ment theory has five basic postulates:
1. Involvement refers to the investment of
physical and psychological energy in various
objects. The objects may be highly gen-
eralized (the student experience) or highly
specific (preparing for a chemistry
examination).
2. Regardless of its object, involvement occurs
along a continuum; that is, different students
manifest different degrees of involvement in
a given object, and the same student mani-
fests different degrees of involvement in
different objects at different times.
3. Involvement has both quantitative and
qualitative features. The extent of a student’s
involvement in academic work, for instance,
can be measured quantitatively (how many
hours the student spends studying) and
qualitatively (whether the student reviews
and comprehends reading assignments or
simply stares at the textbook and day-
dreams).
4. The amount of student learning and personal
development associated with any edu-
cational program is directly proportional to
the quality and quantity of student involve-
ment in that program.
5. The effectiveness of any educational policy
or practice is directly related to the capacity
of that policy or practice to increase student
involvement.
These last two propositions are, of course, the
key educational postulates, because they provide
clues for designing more effective educational
programs for students. Strictly speaking, they do
not really qualify as postulates, because they are
subject to empirical proof. Indeed, much of the
recommended research on involvement (dis-
cussed below) would be designed to test these
two propositions.
TRADITIONAL PEDAGOGICAL
THEORIES
A major impetus for the development of the
student involvement theory was my exasperation
at the tendency of many academicians to treat
the student as a kind of “black box.” On the input
end of this black box are the various policies and
programs of a college or university; on the output
end are various types of achievement measures
such as the GPA or scores on standardized tests.
It seemed that something was missing: some
520 Journal of College Student Development
Astin (1984)
mediating mechanism that would explain how
these educational programs and policies are
translated into student achievement and
development.
I am not implying that the actions and
policies of most faculty members and admini-
strators are not guided by some kind of educa-
tional theory. But usually any such theory is only
implicit in their actions; it is seldom stated
formally or examined critically. Even when
college personnel are aware of the theories that
guide their actions, they seem to accept them as
gospel rather than as testable propositions. In any
event, it may be useful to examine these implicit
pedagogical theories and to show how the theory
of student involvement can help tie them more
directly to student developmental outcomes. I
have identified three implicit pedagogical
theories, labeled for simplicity the subject-
matter, the resource, and the individualized (or
eclectic) theories.
The Subject-Matter Theory
The subject-matter theory of pedagogy, which
could also be labeled the content theory, is
popular among college professors. According to
this theory, student learning and development
depend primarily on exposure to the right subject
matter. Thus, a “liberal education” consists of
an assortment of “worthwhile” courses. Indi-
vidual courses, in turn, are evaluated in terms of
the content reflected, for example, in course
syllabi. Indeed, in most colleges and universities
teaching performance is evaluated by inspecting
the professor’s course syllabi. Given this strong
emphasis on course content, it is not surprising
that proponents of this theory tend to believe that
students learn by attending lectures, doing the
reading assignments, and working in the library.
To the extent that written and oral presentations
by the student are used as learning tools, they
generally focus on the content of the reading or
the lecture.
In the subject-matter approach to learning,
those professors with the greatest knowledge of
a particular subject matter have the highest
prestige. Indeed, because of this emphasis on
specialized knowledge, this approach seems to
encourage the fragmentation and specialization
of faculty interests and to equate scholarly
expertise with pedagogical ability.
But perhaps the most serious limitation of
the subject-matter theory is that it assigns
students a passive role in the learning process:
The “knowledgeable” professor lectures to the
“ignorant” student so that the student can acquire
the same knowledge. Such an approach clearly
favors highly motivated students and those who
tend to be avid readers and good listeners.
Students who are slow readers or who have no
intrinsic interest in the subject matter of a
particular course are not well served by this
approach. In fact, recent attempts to expand
educational opportunities for underprepared
students have probably been hindered by the
continued adherence of most faculty members
to the subject-matter theory of learning (Astin,
1982).
The Resource Theory
The resource theory of pedagogy is a favorite
among administrators and policymakers. Used
here, the term resources includes a wide range
of ingredients believed to enhance student
learning: physical facilities (laboratories,
libraries, and audiovisual aids), human resources
(well-trained faculty members, counselors, and
support personnel), and fiscal resources (finan-
cial aid, endowments, and extramural research
funds). In effect, the resource theory maintains
that if adequate resources are brought together
in one place, student learning and development
will occur. Many college administrators believe
that the acquisition of resources is their most
important duty.
One resource measure that is particularly
popular is the student-faculty ratio. Many
administrators believe that the lower the ratio,
the greater the learning and personal develop-
ment that will occur. But the resource theory has
qualitative as well as quantitative aspects, such
as the belief that increasing the proportion of
“high-quality” professors on the faculty (quality
in this instance is defined primarily in terms of
scholarly productivity and national visibility) will
strengthen the educational environment. Actually,
many research-oriented institutions could
probably afford to hire more faculty members if
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 521
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they were less committed to recruiting and
retaining faculty members who are highly visible
in their disciplines. In short, such policies involve
a trade-off between quantity and quality.
The resource theory of pedagogy also tends
to include the belief that high-achieving students
are a resource, that large numbers of such
students on the campus enhance the quality of
the learning environment for all students. Acting
on this belief, many institutions invest substantial
financial resources in the recruitment of high-
achieving students.
The resource theory has two principal
limitations. First, certain resources, such as bright
students and prestigious faculty, are finite. As a
result, the institutional energies expended in
recruiting high-achieving students and presti-
gious faculty serve merely to redistribute these
finite resources rather than to add to the total
pool of such resources. In other words, a
successful faculty or student recruitment program
may benefit a particular institution, but the
benefit comes at the expense of other institutions.
As a consequence, widespread acceptance of the
resource theory as it applies to faculty and
students tends, paradoxically, to reduce the total
resources available to the entire higher education
community.
The second problem with this approach is
its focus on the mere accumulation of resources
with little attention given to the use or deploy-
ment of such resources. For instance, having
established a multimillion-volume library, the
administration may neglect to find out whether
students are making effective use of that library.
Similarly, having successfully recruited a faculty
“star,” the college may pay little attention to
whether the new faculty member works effec-
tively with students.
The Individualized (Eclectic) Theory
The individualized theory—a favorite of many
developmental and learning psychologists
(Chickering & Associates, 1981)—assumes that
no single approach to subject matter, teaching,
or resource allocation is adequate for all students.
Rather, it attempts to identify the curricular
content and instructional methods that best meet
the needs of the individual student. With its
emphasis on borrowing what is most useful from
other pedagogical approaches, this flexible
approach could also be termed eclectic.
In contrast to the subject-matter approach,
which generally results in a fixed set of curricular
requirements (i.e., courses that all students must
take), the individualized approach emphasizes
electives. Most college curricula represent a
mixture of the subject-matter and individualized
theories; that is, students must take certain
required courses or satisfy certain distributional
requirements but also have the option of taking
a certain number of elective courses.
But the individualized theory goes far
beyond curriculum. It emphasizes, for instance,
the importance to the student of advising and
counseling and of independent study. The
philosophy underlying most student personnel
work (guidance, counseling, selective placement,
and student support services) implicitly incor-
porates the individualized or eclectic theory of
student development.
The individualized approach is also associ-
ated with particular instructional techniques such
as self-paced instruction. This theory has led
some educators to espouse the “competency-
based” learning model (Grant et al., 1979),
whereby common learning objectives (compe-
tencies) are formulated for all students, but the
time allowed to reach these objectives is highly
variable and the instructional techniques used are
highly individualized.
The most obvious limitation of the indivi-
dualized theory is that it can be extremely
expensive to implement, because each student
normally requires considerable individualized
attention. In addition, because there are virtually
no limitations to the possible variations in subject
matter and pedagogical approach, the indi-
vidualized theory is difficult to define with
precision. Furthermore, given the state of
research on learning, it is currently impossible
to specify which types of educational programs
or teaching techniques are most effective with
which types of learners. In other words, although
the theory is appealing in the abstract, it is
extremely difficult to put into practice.
522 Journal of College Student Development
Astin (1984)
THE PLACE OF THE THEORY OF
STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
In what way does the theory of student involve-
ment relate to these traditional pedagogical
theories? I believe that it can provide a link
between the variables emphasized in these
theories (subject matter, resources, and indivi-
dualization of approach) and the learning
outcomes desired by the student and the pro-
fessor. In other words, the theory of student
involvement argues that a particular curriculum,
to achieve the effects intended, must elicit
sufficient student effort and investment of energy
to bring about the desired learning and develop-
ment. Simply exposing the student to a particular
set of courses may or may not work. The theory
of involvement, in other words, provides a
conceptual substitute for the black box that is
implicit in the three traditional pedagogical
theories.
The content theory, in particular, tends to
place students in a passive role as recipients of
information. The theory of involvement, on the
other hand, emphasizes active participation of
the student in the learning process. Recent
research at the precollegiate level (Rosenshine,
1982) has suggested that learning will be greatest
when the learning environment is structured to
encourage active participation by the student.
On a more subtle level, the theory of student
involvement encourages educators to focus less
on what they do and more on what the student
does: how motivated the student is and how much
time and energy the student devotes to the
learning process. The theory assumes that student
learning and development will not be impressive
if educators focus most of their attention on
course content, teaching techniques, laboratories,
books, and other resources. With this approach,
student involvement—rather than the resources
or techniques typically used by educators—
becomes the focus of concern.
Thus, the construct of student involvement
in certain respects resembles a more common
construct in psychology: motivation. I personally
prefer the term involvement, however, because
it implies more than just a psychological state;
it connotes the behavioral manifestation of that
state. Involvement, in other words, is more
susceptible to direct observation and measure-
ment than is the more abstract psychological
construct of motivation. Moreover, involvement
seems to be a more useful construct for edu-
cational practitioners. “How do you motivate
students?” is probably a more difficult question
to answer than “How do you get students
involved?”
The theory of student involvement is
qualitatively different from the developmental
theories that have received so much attention in
the literature of higher education during the past
few years. These theories are of at least two
types: those that postulate a series of hier-
archically arranged developmental stages (e.g.,
Heath, 1968; Kohlberg, 1971; Loevinger, 1966;
Perry, 1970) and those that view student develop-
ment in multidimensional terms (e.g., Brown &
DeCoster, 1982; Chickering, 1969). (For recent,
comprehensive summaries of these theories see
Chickering & Associates, 1981; Hanson, 1982.)
Whereas these theories focus primarily on
developmental outcomes (the what of student
development), the theory of student involvement
is more concerned with the behavioral mech-
anisms or processes that facilitate student
development (the how of student development).
These two types of theories can be studied
simultaneously (see “Research Possibilities”
section below).
Student Time as a Resource
College administrators are constantly pre-
occupied with the accumulation and allocation
of fiscal resources; the theory of student involve-
ment, however, suggests that the most precious
institutional resource may be student time.
According to the theory, the extent to which
students can achieve particular developmental
goals is a direct function of the time and effort
they devote to activities designed to produce
these gains. For example, if increased knowledge
and understanding of history is an important goal
for history majors, the extent to which students
reach this goal is a direct function of the time
they spend at such activities as listening to
professors talk about history, reading books about
history, and discussing history with other
students. Generally, the more time students spend
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 523
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in these activities, the more history they learn.
The theory of student involvement explicitly
acknowledges that the psychic and physical time
and energy of students are finite. Thus, educators
are competing with other forces in the student’s
life for a share of that finite time and energy. Here
are the basic ingredients of a so-called “zero-
sum” game, in which the time and energy that
the student invests in family, friends, job, and
other outside activities represent a reduction in
the time and energy the student has to devote to
educational development.
Administrators and faculty members must
recognize that virtually every institutional policy
and practice (e.g., class schedules; regulations
on class attendance, academic probation, and
participation in honors courses; policies on office
hours for faculty, student orientation, and
advising) can affect the way students spend their
time and the amount of effort they devote to
academic pursuits. Moreover, administrative
decisions about many nonacademic issues (e.g.,
the location of new buildings such as dormitories
and student unions; rules governing residency;
the design of recreational and living facilities;
on-campus employment opportunities; number
and type of extracurricular activities and
regulations regarding participation; the fre-
quency, type, and cost of cultural events;
roommate assignments; financial aid policies; the
relative attractiveness of eating facilities on and
off campus; parking regulations) can significantly
affect how students spend their time and energy.
RELEVANT RESEARCH
The theory of student involvement has its roots
in a longitudinal study of college dropouts (Astin,
1975) that endeavored to identify factors in the
college environment that significantly affect the
student’s persistence in college. It turned out that
virtually every significant effect could be
rationalized in terms of the involvement concept;
that is, every positive factor was likely to increase
student involvement in the undergraduate
experience, whereas every negative factor was
likely to reduce involvement. In other words, the
factors that contributed to the student’s remaining
in college suggested involvement, whereas those
that contributed to the student’s dropping out
implied a lack of involvement.
What were these significant environmental
factors? Probably the most important and
pervasive was the student’s residence. Living in
a campus residence was positively related to
retention, and this positive effect occurred in all
types of institutions and among all types of
students regardless of sex, race, ability, or family
background. Similar results had been obtained
in earlier studies (Astin, 1973; Chickering, 1974)
and have been subsequently replicated (Astin,
1977, 1982). It is obvious that students who live
in residence halls have more time and oppor-
tunity to get involved in all aspects of campus
life. Indeed, simply by eating, sleeping, and
spending their waking hours on the college
campus, residential students have a better chance
than do commuter students of developing a
strong identification and attachment to under-
graduate life.
The longitudinal study also showed that
students who join social fraternities or sororities
or participate in extracurricular activities of
almost any type are less likely to drop out.
Participation in sports, particularly inter-
collegiate sports, has an especially pronounced,
positive effect on persistence. Other activities
that enhance retention include enrollment in
honors programs, involvement in ROTC, and
participation in professors’ undergraduate
research projects.
One of the most interesting environmental
factors that affected retention was holding a part-
time job on campus. Although it might seem that
working while attending college takes time and
energy away from academic pursuits, part-time
employment in an on-campus job actually
facilitates retention. Apparently such work,
which also includes work-study combinations,
operates in much the same way as residential
living: The student is spending time on the
campus, thus increasing the likelihood that he
or she will come into contact with other students,
professors, and college staff. On a more subtle
psychological level, relying on the college as a
source of income can result in a greater sense of
attachment to the college.
Retention suffers, however, if the student
524 Journal of College Student Development
Astin (1984)
works off campus at a full-time job. Because the
student is spending considerable time and energy
on nonacademic activities that are usually
unrelated to student life, full-time work off
campus decreases the time and energy that the
student can devote to studies and other campus
activities.
Findings concerning the effects of different
types of colleges are also relevant to the theory
of involvement. Thus, the most consistent
finding—reported in almost every longitudinal
study of student development—is that the
student’s chances of dropping out are sub-
stantially greater at a 2-year college than at a
4-year college. The negative effects of attending
a community college are observed even after the
variables of entering student characteristics and
lack of residence and work are considered (Astin,
1975, 1977). Community colleges are places
where the involvement of both faculty and
students seems to be minimal. Most (if not all)
students are commuters, and a large proportion
attend college on a part-time basis (thus, they
presumably manifest less involvement simply
because of their part-time status). Similarly, a
large proportion of faculty members are em-
ployed on a part-time basis.
The 1975 study of dropouts also produced
some interesting findings regarding the “fit”
between student and college: Students are more
likely to persist at religious colleges if their own
religious backgrounds are similar; Blacks are
more likely to persist at Black colleges than at
White colleges; and students from small towns
are more likely to persist in small than in large
colleges. The origin of such effects probably lies
in the student’s ability to identify with the
institution. It is easier to become involved when
one can identify with the college environment.
Further support for the involvement theory
can be found by examining the reasons that
students give for dropping out of college. For
men the most common reason is boredom with
courses, clearly implying a lack of involvement.
The most common reason for women is marriage,
pregnancy, or other responsibilities, a set of
competing objects that drain away the time and
energy that women could otherwise devote to
being students.
The persister-dropout phenomenon provides
an ideal paradigm for studying student involve-
ment. Thus, if we conceive of involvement as
occurring along a continuum, the act of dropping
out can be viewed as the ultimate form of
noninvolvement, and dropping out anchors the
involvement continuum at the lowest end.
Because of the apparent usefulness of the
involvement theory as it applied to the earlier
research on dropping out, I decided to investigate
the involvement phenomenon more intensively
by studying the impact of college on a wide range
of other outcomes (Astin, 1977). This study,
which used longitudinal data on several samples
totaling more than 200,000 students and ex-
amined more than 80 different student outcomes,
focused on the effects of several different types
of involvement: place of residence, honors
programs, undergraduate research participation,
social fraternities and sororities, academic
involvement, student-faculty interaction, athletic
involvement, and involvement in student govern-
ment. In understanding the effects of these
various forms of involvement it is important to
keep in mind the overall results of this study:
College attendance in general seems to strength-
en students’ competency, self-esteem, artistic
interests, liberalism, hedonism, and religious
apostasy and to weaken their business interests.
Perhaps the most important general con-
clusion I reached from this elaborate analysis was
that nearly all forms of student involvement are
associated with greater than average changes in
entering freshman characteristics. And for certain
student outcomes involvement is more strongly
associated with change than either entering
freshman characteristics or institutional charac-
teristics. The following is a summary of the
results for specific forms of involvement.
Place of Residence
Leaving home to attend college has significant
effects on most college outcomes. Students who
live in campus residences are much more likely
than commuter students to become less religious
and more hedonistic. Residents also show greater
gains than commuters in artistic interests,
liberalism, and interpersonal self-esteem. Living
in a dormitory is positively associated with
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 525
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several other forms of involvement: interaction
with faculty, involvement in student government,
and participation in social fraternities or
sororities.
Living on campus substantially increases the
student’s chances of persisting and of aspiring
to a graduate or professional degree. Residents
are more likely than commuters to achieve in
such extracurricular areas as leadership and
athletics and to express satisfaction with their
undergraduate experience, particularly in the
areas of student friendships, faculty-student
relations, institutional reputation, and social life.
Honors Programs
Students who participate in honors programs gain
substantially in interpersonal self-esteem,
intellectual self-esteem, and artistic interests.
They are more likely than other students to
persist in college and to aspire to graduate and
professional degrees. Honors participation is
positively related to student satisfaction in three
areas—quality of the science program, closeness
to faculty, and quality of instruction-and nega-
tively related to satisfaction with friendships and
with the institution’s academic reputation. These
findings suggest that honors participation
enhances faculty—student relationships but may
isolate students from their peers.
Academic Involvement
Defined as a complex of self-reported traits and
behaviors (e.g., the extent to which students work
hard at their studies, the number of hours they
spend studying, the degree of interest in their
courses, good study habits), academic involve-
ment produces an unusual pattern of effects.
Intense academic involvement tends to retard
those changes in personality and behavior that
normally result from college attendance. Thus,
students who are deeply involved academically
are less likely than average students to show
increases in liberalism, hedonism, artistic
interests, and religious apostasy or decreases in
business interests. The only personality change
accentuated by academic involvement is need for
status, which is strengthened. Being academically
involved is strongly related to satisfaction with
all aspects of college life except friendships with
other students.
This pattern reinforces the hypothesis that
students who become intensely involved in their
college studies tend to become isolated from their
peers and, consequently, are less susceptible to
the peer group influences that seem critical to
the development of political liberalism, hedon-
ism, and religious apostasy. On the other hand,
they experience considerable satisfaction,
perhaps because of the many institutional
rewards for good academic performance.
Student-Faculty Interaction
Frequent interaction with faculty is more strongly
related to satisfaction with college than any other
type of involvement or, indeed, any other student
or institutional characteristic. Students who
interact frequently with faculty members are
more likely than other students to express
satisfaction with all aspects of their institutional
experience, including student friendships, variety
of courses, intellectual environment, and even
the administration of the institution. Thus, finding
ways to encourage greater student involvement
with faculty (and vice versa) could be a highly
productive activity on most college campuses.
Athletic Involvement
The pattern of effects associated with involve-
ment in athletic activities closely parallels the
pattern associated with academic involvement;
that is, students who become intensely involved
in athletic activities show smaller than average
increases in political liberalism, religious
apostasy, and artistic interests and a smaller than
average decrease in business interests. Athletic
involvement is also associated with satisfaction
in four areas: the institution’s academic repu-
tation, the intellectual environment, student
friendships, and institutional administration.
These results suggest that athletic involvement,
like academic involvement, tends to isolate
students from the peer group effects that normally
accompany college attendance. For the studious
person, this isolation results from the time and
effort devoted to studying. For the athlete, the
isolation probably results from long practice
hours, travel to athletic competitions, and special
living quarters.
526 Journal of College Student Development
Astin (1984)
Involvement in Student Government
Involvement in student government is associated
with greater than average increases in political
liberalism, hedonism, artistic interests, and status
needs as well as greater than average satisfaction
with student friendships. This pattern of relation-
ships supports the hypothesis that the changes
in attitudes and behavior that usually accompany
college attendance are attributable to peer-group
effects. That is, students who become actively
involved in student government interact fre-
quently with their peers, and this interaction
seems to accentuate the changes normally
resulting from the college experience.
Research on Cognitive Development
Although most research on classroom learning
has been carried out at the precollegiate level,
most of the evidence from this research strongly
supports the concept of involvement as a critical
element in the learning process. The concepts of
time-on-task and effort, for example, appear
frequently in the literature as key determinants
of a wide range of cognitive learning outcomes
(Bloom, 1974; Fisher et al., 1980; Gagne, 1977).
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
There are several implications of the theory of
involvement for practitioners in higher education.
Some of the possible uses that could be made of
the theory by faculty, administrators, and student
personnel workers are briefly described below.
Faculty and Administrators
As already suggested, the content and resource
approaches to pedagogy tend to favor the well-
prepared, assertive student. In contrast, the
concept of student involvement emphasizes
giving greater attention to the passive, reticent,
or unprepared student. Of course, not all passive
students are uninvolved in their academic work,
nor are they necessarily experiencing academic
difficulties. But passivity is an important warning
sign that may reflect a lack of involvement.
Perhaps the most important application of
the student involvement theory to teaching is that
it encourages the instructor to focus less on
content and teaching techniques and more on
what students are actually doing—how motivated
they are and how much time and energy they are
devoting to the learning process. Teaching is a
complex art. And, like other art forms, it may
suffer if the artist focuses exclusively on
technique. Instructors can be more effective if
they focus on the intended outcomes of their
pedagogical efforts: achieving maximum student
involvement and learning. (Final examinations
monitor learning, but they come too late in the
learning process to have much value for the
individual student.)
The art-form analogy can perhaps be better
illustrated with an example from sports. Any
professional baseball player will confirm that the
best way to develop skill in pitching is to focus
not on the mechanics but on the intended results:
getting the ball over the plate. If the player
overemphasizes such techniques as the grip, the
stance, the windup, and the kick without attend-
ing to where the ball goes, he will probably never
learn to pitch well. In fact, the technique involved
in pitching a baseball, shooting a basketball, or
hitting a golf ball is really unimportant as long
as the ball goes where the player wants it to. If
the ball fails to behave as intended, then the
player begins to worry about adjusting his or her
technique.
In education, teachers and administrators
often concentrate on their own techniques or
processes and thus ignore or overlook what is
going on with the student. I believe that the
involvement approach has the advantage of
encouraging educators to focus more on what the
student is actually doing.
Counselors and Student Personnel
Workers
If an institution commits itself to achieving
maximum student involvement, counselors and
other student personnel workers will probably
occupy a more important role in institutional
operations. Because student personnel workers
frequently operate on a one-to-one basis with
students, they are in a unique position to monitor
the involvement of their clients in the academic
process and to work with individual clients in
an attempt to increase that involvement. One of
the challenges confronting student personnel
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 527
Developmental Theory
workers these days is to find a “hook” that will
stimulate students to get more involved in the
college experience: taking a different array of
courses, changing residential situations, joining
student organizations, participating in various
kinds of extracurricular activities, or finding new
peer groups.
The theory of involvement also provides a
useful frame of reference for working with
students who are having academic difficulties.
Perhaps the first task in working with such
students is to understand the principal objects
on which their energies are focused. It might be
helpful, for example, to ask the student to keep
a detailed diary, showing the time spent in various
activities such as studying, sleeping, socializing,
daydreaming, working, and commuting. From
such a diary the counselor can identify the
principal activities in which the student is
currently involved and the objects of cathexis and
can then determine if the academic difficulties
stem from competing involvements, poor study
habits, lack of motivation, or some combination
of these factors.
In short, the theory of student involvement
provides a unifying construct that can help to
focus the energies of all institutional personnel
on a common objective.
RESEARCH POSSIBILITIES
My research over the past several years, applying
the theory of student involvement, has generated
many ideas for further research. There are
possibilities not only for testing the theory itself
but also for exploring educational ideas that grow
out of the theory. The following are just a few
examples of the kinds of research that could be
undertaken.
Assessing Different Forms of Involvement
Clearly, one of the most important next steps in
developing and testing the involvement theory
is to explore ways of assessing different forms
of involvement. As already suggested, a time
diary could be valuable in determining the
relative importance of various objects and
activities to the student. Judging from my first
attempt to develop time diaries (Astin, 1968),
students vary considerably in the amount of time
they spend on such diverse activities as studying,
socializing, sleeping, daydreaming, and traveling.
It would also be useful to assess how frequently
students interact with each other, with faculty
members and other institutional personnel, and
with people outside the institution. In addition,
it is important not only to identify the extra-
curricular activities in which the student parti-
cipates but also to assess the time and energy
that the student devotes to each activity.
Quality Versus Quantity
My colleague, C. Robert Pace, has developed an
extensive battery of devices to assess the quality
of effort that students devote to various activities
(Pace, 1982). A number of research questions
arise in connection with the quality versus
quantity issue: To what extent can high-quality
involvement compensate for lack of quantity?
Can students be encouraged to use time more
wisely? To what extent does low-quality involve-
ment reflect such obstacles as lack of motivation
and personal problems?
Involvement and Developmental Outcomes
The research reviewed earlier (Astin, 1977)
suggests that different forms of involvement lead
to different developmental outcomes. The
connection between particular forms of involve-
ment and particular outcomes is an important
question that should be addressed in future
research. For example, do particular forms of
involvement facilitate student development along
the various dimensions postulated by theorists
such as Chickering (1969), Loevinger (1966),
Heath (1968), Perry (1970), and Kohlberg
(1971)? It would also be useful to determine
whether particular student characteristics (e.g.,
socioeconomic status, academic preparation, sex)
are significantly related to different forms of
involvement and whether a given form of
involvement produces different outcomes for
different types of students.
The Role of Peer Groups
Considerable research at the precollegiate level
suggests that the student’s commitment of time
and energy to academic work can be strongly
528 Journal of College Student Development
Astin (1984)
influenced by student peers (Coleman, 1961;
McDill & Rigsby, 1973). It would be useful to
determine whether similar relationships exist at
the postsecondary level and, in particular,
whether different types of student peer groups
can be consciously used to enhance student
involvement in the learning process.
Attribution and Locus of Control
In recent years learning and developmental
theorists have shown an increasing interest in the
concepts of locus of control (Rotter, 1966) and
attribution (Weiner, 1979). Considerable re-
search, for example, suggests that students’
degree of involvement in learning tasks can be
influenced by whether they believe that their
behavior is controlled by internal or by external
factors. Weiner (1979) argued that even if
students tend to view their locus of control as
internal, involvement may be further contingent
on whether the internal factors are controllable
(e.g., dependent on effort) or uncontrollable (e.g.,
dependent on ability). It seems clear that the
effectiveness of any attempt to increase student
involvement is highly contingent on the student’s
perceived locus of control and attributional
inclinations.
Other Questions
Other questions that could be explored in future
research on the involvement theory include the
following:
Exceptions to the rule. What are the charac-
teristics of highly involved students who drop
out? What are the characteristics of uninvolved
students who nonetheless manage to persist in
college? Are there particular developmental
outcomes for which a high degree of involvement
is contraindicated?
Temporal patterns of involvement. Two
students may devote the same total amount of
time and energy to a task but may distribute their
time in very different ways. For example, one
student preparing a term paper may work for 1
hour each night over a period of 2 weeks; another
may stay up all night to do the paper. What are
the developmental consequences of these
different patterns?
Combining different forms of involvement.
How do different forms of involvement interact?
Does one form of involvement (e.g., in extra-
curricular activities) enhance or diminish the
effects of another form (e.g., in academic work)?
What are the ideal combinations that facilitate
maximum learning and personal development?
Desirable limits to involvement. Although
the theory of involvement generally holds that
“more is better,” there are probably limits beyond
which increasing involvement ceases to produce
desirable results and can even become counter-
productive. Examples of excessive involvement
are the “workaholic,” the academic “grind,” and
others who manifest obsessive-compulsive
behavior. What are the ideal upper limits for
various forms of involvement? Are problems
more likely to develop if the student is ex-
cessively involved in a single object (e.g.,
academic work) rather than in a variety of
objects (e.g., academic work, part-time job,
extracurricular activities, social activities, and
political activities)?
Epidemiology of involvement. Can student
involvement be increased if professors interact
more with students? Can administrators bring
about greater faculty-student interaction by
setting an example themselves? Does focusing
on student involvement as a common institutional
goal tend to break down traditional status barriers
between faculty and student personnel workers?
SUMMARY
I have presented a theory of student development,
labeled the student involvement theory, which I
believe is both simple and comprehensive. This
theory not only elucidates the considerable
findings that have emerged from decades of
research on student development; it also offers
educators a tool for designing more effective
learning environments.
Student involvement refers to the quantity
and quality of the physical and psychological
energy that students invest in the college
experience. Such involvement takes many forms,
such as absorption in academic work, parti-
cipation in extracurricular activities, and
interaction with faculty and other institutional
personnel. According to the theory, the greater
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1999 VOL 40 NO 5 529
Developmental Theory
the student’s involvement in college, the greater
will be the amount of student learning and
personal development. Front the standpoint of
the educator, the most important hypothesis in
the theory is that the effectiveness of any
educational policy or practice is directly related
to the capacity of that policy or practice to
increase student involvement.
The principal advantage of the student
involvement theory over traditional pedagogical
approaches (including the subject-matter, the
resource, and the individualized or eclectic
theories) is that it directs attention away from
subject matter and technique and toward the
motivation and behavior of the student. It views
student time and energy as institutional resources,
albeit finite resources. Thus, all institutional
policies and practices—those relating to non-
academic as well as academic matters—can be
evaluated in terms of the degree to which they
increase or reduce student involvement. Simi-
larly, all college personnel—counselors and
student personnel workers as well as faculty and
administrators—can assess their own activities in
terms of their success in encouraging students to
become more involved in the college experience.
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Astin, A. W. (1982). Minorities in American higher
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... Student engagement has frequently been studied as a predictor of college student learning and development (Mayhew et al., 2016). The study of engagement in college settings originated with concepts like Astin's (1984) model of involvement and Pace's (1998) research on a related concept he called quality of effort. Both these scholars' ideas suggested that more time and energy devoted to the academic experience by a student would lead to increases in learning. ...
... time on task) and qualitative (e.g. useful study strategies) features (Astin, 1984). ...
... Throughout the learning literature, scholars have emphasized the importance of engagement and experience for students' learning, both through conceptualizations in line with Astin's (1984) and Pace's (1998) descriptions of involvement (Kuh, 2001(Kuh, , 2009) and through Kolb's (2011) description of EL (Cantor, 1995;Conger et al., 2010;Duderstadt, 2008;Harrisberger, 1976;Itin, 1999). ...
Thesis
Biomedical engineering (BME) undergraduate students take courses that allow them to develop skills in multiple disciplinary areas (e.g., biology, medicine, chemical, mechanical, electrical engineering) and as such, have a wide array of career opportunities available to them upon graduation. While their broad curricular exposure lends itself to flexibility in careers, it leaves little room in the curriculum for professional competence development and has been implicated in graduates’ difficulties navigating career searches upon graduation. This research addresses this concern by examining how students enrolled in an BME program in a highly selective research university fill the professional development curricular gap while pursuing their undergraduate degree. I leveraged professional development educational literature that described concepts of student involvement and experiential learning. These concepts emphasize the importance of active engagement to promote students’ learning and development. Through in-depth analysis of the engineering education literature using a systematic search and qualitative synthesis of 100 full articles, I found that assessment efforts in experiential learning settings have largely focused on in-class opportunities and infrequently leverage mixed or qualitative methods of inquiry. This review of the literature informed my year-long qualitative study of BME students’ professional development in out-of- class, co-curricular settings. Each of the studies presented in this dissertation analyze data from a series of four interviews with fourteen third-year BME undergraduate students over one academic year. The studies focused on understanding relevant professional development questions for students pursuing BME degrees and engaging in co-curricular opportunities while pursuing their degrees. I found that BME students were most frequently motivated to participate in co-curricular opportunities that they thought had value for their future careers, but also engaged in co-curricular experiences that supported parts of their identities or were generally interesting to them. I also found that BME students described their motivations for pursuing BME in similar ways. Participants in this study discussed personal interests as a motivating factor for pursuing a BME degree, and were able to articulate professionally relevant skills they described as unique to BME graduates. Furthermore, I found data that supports previously anecdotal disciplinary discussions about the career search and exploration process of BME students, finding that across the span of one year, students were discovering multiple new career options, and considering how to address perceived career placement difficulties after completing a BME degree. In my final analysis, I examined the data for evidence of participants’ professional competency development over time, looking for patterns in the experiential process by which students developed professional competencies. I found evidence of learning processes connected to the development of ten professional competencies: business, career direction, communication, cultural, design, disciplinary, interdisciplinary, leadership, personal attributes, and teamwork. My work can inform efforts to improve the previously understudied career search experiences of BME undergraduate students. The results of my work indicate the importance of career exploration opportunities throughout students’ four-year experience in both curricular and co-curricular settings. My work also has implications for BME educators and advisors interested in co-curricular or experiential learning opportunities. Using the results of my final study as a basis, I have developed a set of recommendations for students interested in selecting co-curricular experiences that support specific professional competence development. Similarly, I recommended curricular strategies educators can incorporate in their classes to support the development of professional competencies linked to experiential, co-curricular engagement in my study.
... Connell (1990), trouve que l'engagement est compris comme le déclenchement de l'action, la quantité d'efforts et la qualité de la persistance face aux tâches scolaires, tout autant que l'état émotif de l'élève. Astin (1984) ainsi que Pirot et De Ketele (2000) définissent l'engagement (involvement) comme la quantité d'énergie physique et psychologique qu'un élève consacre à l'expérience scolaire. Selon ces auteurs, l'élève très engagé est celui qui met beaucoup d'énergie à étudier, à discuter des sujets scolaires avec ses pairs, à essayer d'effectuer des liens entre les notions scolaires et sa vie, à faire des lectures non obligatoires sur des sujets en relation avec les cours, à participer aux activités du campus et à créer très fréquemment des contacts avec d'autres élèves ou membres de l'institution. ...
... Selon ces auteurs, l'élève très engagé est celui qui met beaucoup d'énergie à étudier, à discuter des sujets scolaires avec ses pairs, à essayer d'effectuer des liens entre les notions scolaires et sa vie, à faire des lectures non obligatoires sur des sujets en relation avec les cours, à participer aux activités du campus et à créer très fréquemment des contacts avec d'autres élèves ou membres de l'institution. Par ailleurs, Pace (1984) précise le concept de l'engagement par la qualité de l'effort, il le résume comme suit « la quantité, l'ampleur et la qualité de l'effort mis par les élèves pour profiter des occasions offertes par le collège » (Astin, 1984, cité par Giard, 1994. Pace (1984) insiste sur le fait que pour réussir, l'apprenant doit être engagé et doit jouer un rôle actif. ...
Thesis
Au cours de ces dernières années, les cours massifs ouverts en ligne (CLOM) ou les Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) ont offert des possibilités d'apprentissage dans le monde entier dans divers domaines. Néanmoins, ces dispositifs sont critiqués vu leurs taux de réussite très bas. La recherche actuelle s’intéresse à la problématique de l’engagement et la réussite dans les MOOC. Comme pour de nombreuses technologies éducatives émergentes, il convient de mieux comprendre pourquoi et comment les apprenants réussissent aux MOOC et, surtout, quels sont les facteurs qui contribuent à améliorer leurs performances dans ces dispositifs. Cette thèse a pour objectif de contribuer à une meilleure compréhension des déterminants qui affectent l’engagement et les performances des apprenants dans les MOOC. Dans les environnements d'apprentissage en ligne, le niveau d’engagement semble être lié aux performances des apprenants. Cependant, l’engagement est une construction complexe et la recherche sur la façon dont il fonctionne dans les MOOC n'en est qu'à ses débuts. Nous avons cherché dans ce travail à proposer une modélisation théorique de l’engagement en tant que concept multidimensionnel qui joue le rôle d’une variable médiatrice qui s’intercale entre les variables individuelles et les performances des apprenants dans les MOOC. En invoquant un cadre théorique multi-référencés et à travers l’analyse des données empiriques et les traces log de 5904 apprenants dans un xMOOC, notre travail propose un modèle permettant d’une part de mesurer l’engagement des apprenants dans un MOOC et d’autre part d’interroger la nature des relations qui existent entre les variables individuelles, l’engagement et les performances des apprenants. Les résultats saillants de ce travail de recherche mettent en valeur :-Les effets positifs de l’âge de l’apprenant sur son engagement comportemental et cognitif ;-Les effets positifs du principal motif d’inscription sur l’engagement comportemental et cognitif et sur les performances de l’apprenant ;-Les effets positifs du contexte du suivi du MOOC sur l’engagement comportemental, cognitif, social et les performances de l’apprenant ;-L’effet négatif du genre de l’apprenant sur son engagement cognitif ;-Et l’absence de l’effet du niveau d’études de l’apprenant sur son engagement et sur ses performances.Les résultats de ce travail de recherche permettent ainsi de valoriser le rôle médiateur de l’engagement qui s’intercale entre les variables âge, principal motif d’inscription et contexte de suivi du MOOC et les performances et de mettre en exergue les effets positifs de l’engagement dans ses dimensions comportementale, cognitive et sociale sur les performances d’un apprenant dans le MOOC PRD5, avec un effet plus important de l’engagement comportemental, suivi de l’engagement cognitif et en fin de l’engagement social.
... Learning experience is the main factor affecting student engagement (Astin, 1984;Biggs, 1993;Coates and McCormick, 2014), in order to improve the level of students' learning experience, the teaching content needs to be designed and the teaching process needs to be managed with students as the center of the concept (Gibb, 2002;Murah and Abdullah, 2012;Robinson et al., 2016). ...
... In the field of university learning, Astin (1984) paid early attention to the relationship between student engagement and learning results, proposing that students' learning gains and development are directly related to the quantity and quality of students' learning input. Numerous subsequent studies have confirmed that student engagement is a significant predictor of learning outcomes, and the more students engage in learning, the better their academic performance will be (Wang and Eccles, 2013;Zepke, 2014;Zusho, 2017). ...
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With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual simulation games have provided an effective teaching method for online entrepreneurship education. By exploring the mechanisms that influence student engagement and learning outcomes from different perspectives, such as game design, team and individual perspectives, numerous scholars have demonstrated that such a teaching method can effectively improve students’ engagement and learning performance. However, the existing studies are relatively scattered, and there is a scarcity of studies in which the effects of said factors are considered. Based on the learning process 3P model (presage-process-product) proposed by Biggs (1993) , students’ perceived experience of game design, teamwork and self-efficacy were taken as variables in the early learning stage in the present study, and the influence mechanism of virtual simulation game learning experience on students’ engagement and entrepreneurial skill development was explored, so as to close the gap in existing research. In the present study, 177 college students from Chinese universities were surveyed and the data were surveyed using AMOS 23.0 software. Although the empirical results show that students’ “goal and feedback” and “alternative” experience of game design did not have a significant positive impact on students’ engagement, there was a direct and significant effect the development of entrepreneurial skills. Students’ experience of teamwork and general self-efficacy could not only directly and significantly affect the development of entrepreneurial skills, but also indirectly affect the development of entrepreneurial skills through learning engagement. The research results are practically significant for teachers in the selection and development of virtual simulation games, can be effectively applied in teaching process management, and can improve students’ engagement and learning performance.
... Therefore, greater integration with the school community is essential to academic success. In fact, living on campus dramatically increases students persisting to continue and aspiring to succeed [93]. Turner [94] noted that integrating male adolescents into the social framework of college is a key step in encouraging persistence. ...
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... Theory of Involvement explains the dynamic development process of students during their study in colleges and universities. Compared with students' extracurricular participation, it is found that their academic participation has more impact on students' achievement (Astin, 1984(Astin, , 1993. Student Integration Theory is divided into social integration and academic integration. ...
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... According to the theory of involvement (Astin, 1984), the extent to which students can achieve particular developmental goals is a direct function of the time and effort they devote to activities designed to achieve the goals. In the present study, time and effort taken in farm family visits were encountered as the involvement. ...
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