Exploring Curricular and Cocurricular Effects on Civic Engagement at Emerging Hispanic-Serving Institutions
by Gina A. Garcia & Marcela G. Cuellar - 2018
Background/Context: Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSIs), or those postsecondary institutions that meet the 25% Latina/o enrollment requirement to become federally designated as HSIs, are burgeoning in the United States. Similarly, emerging Hispanic-Serving Institutions (eHSIs), or those postsecondary institutions that enroll between 15% and 24% Latina/o students, are rapidly increasing. As these institutions increase in number, there is a need to understand them as unique organizations that provide distinct outcomes for diverse students, including students of color, commuter students, and low-income students.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study was to explore the ways in which eHSIs contribute to one specific outcome, civic engagement. We conceptualized civic engagement as primarily defined by political involvement (contacting public officials, participating in a political demonstration, discussing politics, voting in an election), although volunteerism was also included in our definition (engaging in community service). The main research question guiding this study was: What curricular and cocurricular experiences contribute to the civic engagement of students enrolled at eHSIs?
Population/Participants/Subjects: A sample of 10,022 students was drawn from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). The sample is inclusive of women (61%), first-generation college students (18%), and racially diverse individuals, including Latina/o (18%), Black (4%), Asian/Pacific Islander (38%), American Indian (4%), and White (51%).
Research Design: We used a cross-sectional research design, measuring the civic engagement of students enrolled at six eHSIs at one time point. Secondary data came from CIRP’s Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) survey, which focuses on the experiences of diverse students and their perceptions of the climate and institutional practices for diversity.
Data Collection and Analysis: The DLE survey is web based and administered annually by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). We merged two data sets, the 2010 and 2011 DLE, data from the 2010–2011 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and information about diversity-related curricula and cocurricular programs for each of the six institutions. We ran t tests and used ordinary least squares regression to examine relationships between variables.
Findings/Results: Findings show that students’ perceptions of their academic validation and of a curriculum of inclusion in the classroom, as well as their involvement in campus-facilitated diversity programs, positively predict their civic engagement.
Recommendations: Recommendations for research include developing and validating quantitative measures of civic engagement for diverse students attending compositionally diverse institutions. Recommendations for practice include acknowledging the changing demographics within postsecondary institutions and creating curricular and cocurricular structures that will contribute to nonacademic outcomes such as civic engagement.
As the number of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)those defined as nonprofit, degree-granting postsecondary institutions that enroll 25% or more full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate Latina/o students burgeons, there is an increasing need to understand them as unique organizations that provide distinct outcomes for diverse students. HSIs are distinct in that they provide access to compositionally diverse groups of students, including a large percentage of students of color (Contreras, Malcom, & Bensimon, 2008; Núñez & Bowers, 2011), commuter students (González, 2008; Salinas & Llanes, 2003), low-income students (de los Santos & Cuamea, 2010; Malcom-Piqueex & Lee, 2011), underprepared students (de los Santos & Cuamea, 2010; Núñez & Bowers, 2011), and first-generation college students (Núñez, Sparks, & Hernández, 2011; Salinas & Llanes, 2003). Although not officially recognized by the federal government, emerging HSIs (eHSIs), which enroll between 15% and 24% FTE Latina/o undergraduate students (Excelencia in Education, 2016a), are also rapidly increasing in number and enrolling compositionally diverse students similar to HSIs. In an attempt to further understand them as unique institutions that produce distinct outcomes for students, this study examined eHSIs.
Specifically, we focused on the ways in which curricular and cocurricular experiences at eHSIs contribute to the civic engagement outcomes of students attending these institutions. Falling in line with the definition laid out by Verba and Nie (1987), we conceptualized civic engagement as primarily defined by political involvement (contacting public officials, participating in a political demonstration, discussing politics, voting in an election), although volunteerism was also included in our definition (engaging in community service). We sought to explore this outcome for students attending eHSIs because a recent meta-analysis conducted by Bowman (2011) showed that there is a consistently strong relationship between college diversity experiences and civic engagement. While we recognize that many postsecondary institutions have the goal of graduating students who participate in the democratic process and who engage with the community (Coley & Sum, 2012; Gutmann, 1999; Hurtado, 2007), eHSIs offer a unique context for conducting this analysis because they enroll a compositionally diverse group of students and may offer distinct diversity experiences, particularly within the curricular and cocurricular contexts. The main research question was: What curricular and cocurricular experiences contribute to the civic engagement of students enrolled at eHSIs?
OUTCOMES OF ATTENDING AN (e)HSI
The growing body of research on HSIs shows that they contribute to a number of outcomes for students. Research reveals that when institutional characteristics are controlled for, HSIs are likely to graduate Latina/o and Black students at rates that are similar to, if not better, than, non-HSIs (Flores & Park, 2013, 2015; Rodríguez & Calderón Galdeano, 2015). Beyond graduation, Cuellar (2014) found that students attending HSIs show a greater increase in academic self-concept than those attending non-HSIs. Others have also shown that students attending HSIs are likely to experience a greater sense of belonging as they interact with faculty, staff, and students with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds and who speak Spanish (Dayton, Gonzalez-Vasquez, Martinez, & Plum, 2004; Sebanc, Hernandez, & Alvarado, 2009). Moreover, HSIs may enhance students racial identity salience (Guardia & Evans, 2008), while Garcia, Patrón, Ramirez, and Hudson (2016) suggested that eHSI may do the same. Although eHSIs enroll a diverse group of students across race, socioeconomic status, and college generational status, similar to HSIs, less is known about the outcomes for students attending these institutions. This study is an attempt to expand the knowledge base on eHSIs by looking at one specific outcome: civic engagement. In particular, we look at how curricular and cocurricular elements within eHSIs contribute to students civic engagement.
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AS AN OUTCOME
Civic engagement has long been recognized as an important outcome for graduates of all postsecondary institutions (Coley & Sum, 2012; Gutmann, 1999). Scholars argue that Minority Serving Institutions, and specifically Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), have valued civic engagement as an important outcome for their students since their founding (Anderson, 1988; Gasman, Spencer, & Orphan, 2015). Less has been written on the ways in which HSIs and eHSIs value and/or contribute to the civic engagement of students. The national call for colleges and universities to reprioritize civic engagement as an essential outcome, however, is undeniable (National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, 2012). The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (2012) argued that colleges and universities are natural environments for providing our nations future leaders with the knowledge, skills, values, and behaviors necessary for widespread civic renewal. While we recognize that there is an extensive body of literature on civic engagement as an outcome of postsecondary institutions, we focus here on the factors that contribute to students overall civic engagement, with the goal of building a statistical model that can be used to understand how curricular and cocurricular structures at eHSIs contribute to civic engagement outcomes.
PREDICTORS OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
We reviewed an extensive body of literature in which authors defined civic engagement in many ways, based on political activity, community service, service learning, and volunteerism. For consistency in this review, we considered all these as forms of civic engagement even though we primarily conceptualized it as a political construct for this study. Numerous studies have shown differences in peoples civic engagement based on demographics. In general, Asians and Latinas/os show lower levels of civic engagement than their White counterparts (Costa & Kahn, 2003; Foster-Bey, 2008; Galston, 2007; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995), whereas Blacks may have similar or higher engagement than Whites (Galston, 2007; Ishitani & McKitrick, 2013). Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are also less likely to be civically engaged (Coley & Sum, 2012; Foster-Bey, 2008; Galston, 2007; Lot II, 2013), while civic engagement increases with more educational attainment (Coley & Sum, 2012; Foster-Bey, 2008), suggesting that first-generation college students may be less engaged civically. Moreover, citizenship status is strongly associated with civic engagement, with foreign-born citizens and noncitizens alike demonstrating less civic engagement than U.S.-born citizens (Foster-Bey, 2008; Galston, 2007).
What these findings suggest are that those who are most likely to enroll in HSIs, and subsequently eHSIs (i.e., students of color, low-income students, first-generation college students), are least likely to be civically engaged. Alcantar (2014), however, noted that most studies of civic engagement narrowly define this concept along normative measures that fail to account for alternative forms of engagement, such as translating for non-English-speaking communities or mentoring immigrant youth. Rubin (2007) also contended that traditional measures of civic engagement largely exclude students from racialized backgrounds even though these students participate in democratic activities, yet define their involvement and civic identity differently. This is partially supported by research by Lott II (2013), who found that college students of color have higher civic values (not necessarily engagement) than White students. Perez, Espinoza, Ramos, Coronado, and Cortes (2010) also found that a large percentage of undocumented students participate in at least one civic engagement activity during college, while Knight (2011) argued that immigrant youth utilize their educational settings as a transformative civic space. Taking this into consideration, we did not focus on the demographic indicators of civic engagement and instead used these as measures of control in our model. Instead, the purpose of this study was to understand how eHSIs, at an organizational level, affect outcomes for diverse students. As such, we next reviewed the literature on the institutional characteristics that are predictors of civic engagement.
With the goal of scrutinizing the organizational structures for serving the types of students who enroll in HSIs and eHSIs (who, according to research, are less likely to be civically engaged by traditional standards), we looked at the literature on institutional characteristics that shape civic engagement. Structural characteristics such as public control (i.e., state funded) show a negative relationship with civic engagement (Ishitani & McKitrick, 2013; Lott II, 2013), while no differences exist based on Carnegie classification (Ishitani & McKintrick, 2013), and minimal differences exist based on size (Ishitani & McKintrick, 2013; Lott II, 2013). The inconsistent and/or minor effects of institutional characteristics on civic engagement are important to note because HSIs, and eHSIs by extension, vary tremendously along these measures, making it difficult to study these institutions at the population level. Compositional diversity (i.e., the number of diverse students enrolled), however, makes these institutions unique, yet Denson and Chang (2009) found that the compositional diversity of an institution may not directly enhance civic involvement. Alternatively, others have found that the frequent interactions across diverse groups in more compositionally diverse institutions positively influence civic engagement (Bowman, 2011; Chang, Astin, & Kim, 2004; Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002).
In this study, we specifically sought to explore how curricular and cocurricular experiences are related to various forms of civic outcomes. We found that enrollment in courses that incorporate diverse perspectives positively influences civic action and duty (Bowman, 2011; Denson & Bowman, 2013; Hurtado, 2003; Nelson Laird, 2005; Nelson Laird, Engberg, & Hurtado, 2005; Zúñiga, Williams, & Berger, 2005). Denson and Bowman (2013), for example, found that students who have a high level of involvement in curricular diversity activities (taking an ethnic studies course, taking a course that provides learning on different cultures, or attending a racial/cultural awareness workshop) show significant gains in civic participation and duty. Others came to similar conclusions, finding that taking an ethnic studies course positively influences civic awareness and action (Hurtado & DeAngelo, 2012; Lott II, 2013). In addition, student interactions with faculty who engage in civic-minded practices appear to link curricular opportunities and the development of civic learning (Hurtado & DeAngelo, 2012). Students who interact closely with faculty in service learning and linked-learning communities, for example, are likely to become more civically engaged, including pursuing a service job and/or volunteering after college (Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, & Yee, 2000; Einfeld & Collins, 2008; Hunter & Brisban, 2000).
Cocurricular programming also influences the development of various civic outcomes and involvement in civically related activities. More specifically, activities such as joining a fraternity/sorority, participating in leadership training, and attending racial/cultural awareness workshops are associated with increased civic action and engagement (Bryant, Gayles, & Davis, 2012; González, 2008; Hurtado, 2003; Lott II, 2013). Civic engagement is also enhanced through participation in formal diversity-related practices such as faculty-mentoring programs for diverse students (Hurtado & DeAngelo, 2012; Hurtado, Griffin, Arellano, & Cuellar, 2008) as well as diversity-initiated projects in the residence halls (Zúñiga et al., 2005). Involvement in ethnic student organizations, particularly those affinity groups that increase Latina/o students engagement with other Latinas/os, is also likely to increase civic action (Bowman, 2011; Bowman, Park, & Denson, 2015; Davis, 1997; González, 2008; Villalpando, 2003). While participation in these cocurricular activities promotes civic engagement, the largest gains in this outcome likely stem from the interpersonal interactions students have with diverse peers (Bowman, 2011). Increased opportunities to engage with diverse peers at both the curricular and cocurricular level are thus critical for the enhancement of civic engagement.
Critical Consciousness as a Mediating Outcome
What we see missing in the literature is a more nuanced understanding of why these types of curricular and cocurricular experiences (i.e., diversity courses, service learning, participation in Latina/o student organizations) increase civic engagement. For students of color, inclusive curricula and validating pedagogy allow them to see themselves, including their culture and their history, in the curricula (Rendón Linares & Muñoz, 2011). Furthermore, inclusive curricula and validating pedagogy increase students understanding of social inequities and enhance their critical consciousness. Critical consciousness, as conceptualized by Freire (1974), is achieved only when students problematize the cultural, political, and historical reality in which they exist with the goal of disrupting the injustices that plague both the oppressed and the oppressor. The goal of diversity-related curricular and cocurricular involvement, therefore, should be to examine privileged social identities while challenging the structures that perpetuate the marginalization of the oppressed (Nicotera & Kang, 2009). Indeed, Nagda, Gurin, and Lopez (2003) found that when students are exposed to critical pedagogy and experiential learning in the college classroom, it reduces their level of victim blaming while increasing their awareness of institutional oppression. Service learning courses may also increase students racial understanding (Astin et al.,, 2000) and their awareness of inequality (Einfeld & Collins, 2008). Outside of the classroom, Villalpando (2003) found that when Chicana/o students engage with other Chicana/o students, they increase their social consciousness. Whereas the literature suggests that inclusive curricula, validating pedagogy, and critical consciousness are connected, we explored how these concepts separately contribute to civic engagement outcomes at eHSIs.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: DIVERSE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
This study draws on the Multi-contextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments (MMDLE), which is a holistic conceptual model that links the campus climate, educational practices, and student outcomes (Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar, & Arellano, 2012). The MMDLE explicitly accounts for the external and internal contexts that influence outcomes for diverse students. The MMDLE builds on previous research, arguing that within an institution, the campus climate frames the learning environment (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998, 1999). Hurtado and colleagues (2012) posited that the campus climate comprises five dimensions that exist at both the institutional (historical, organizational, compositional) and individual (psychological, behavioral) level and that these five dimensions collectively shape the institutional environment and ultimately affect student outcomes. The historical dimension represents the vestiges of exclusionary practices for racialized, gendered, and other oppressed people. Of particular interest to this study, the organizational dimension captures the structures and processes that confer resources that embed group-based privileges and oppression. These include the curricula, budget allocations, and other institutional policies and practices. Also critical to this study, the compositional dimension refers to the numerical representation of a diverse student body and institutional representatives. These institutional level domains point to the level of commitment that an institution has for creating a diverse learning environment. In contrast, the psychological and behavioral dimensions, which relate to the perceptions and interactions of individuals within a campus, were not explored in this study.
The MMDLE was an ideal framework for conceptualizing this study because it assumes that in a compositionally diverse learning environment, such as that found in an eHSI, students and their social identities are at the center. As such, researchers must focus on the ways in which diverse students interact with various actors across each dimension of the college or university. For this study, we focused specifically on the curricular and cocurricular spheres, recognizing that the incorporation of the curricular and cocurricular dimensions is a unique feature of the MMDLE not seen in previous campus climate models. By including the curricular and cocurricular spheres, the MMDLE accounts for a holistic view of students experiences within a college or university setting and subsequent outcomes of these experiences. Furthermore, the MMDLE acknowledges that students and various actors simultaneously shape an institution while being shaped by it; this is an important consideration for HSIs and eHSIs, which are witnessing a rapid transformation in the compositional diversity of their students.
The outcomes of interest within the MMDLE are those that are necessary for success in the 21st century (Hurtado et al., 2012). In particular, the model posits that habits of mind, retention and achievement, and multicultural competencies are critical for individual success and societal transformation. Arguably, institutions of higher education can foster a critical consciousness and compel students to take personal and social responsibility in improving society. Civic engagement is one such outcome among the multicultural competencies that demonstrates the extent to which students are engaged citizens and participate in political and social action (Hurtado et al., 2012). Although several dimensions of the campus climate may be strongly associated with the development of civic outcomes, the MMDLE is complex and difficult to theoretically test in one study. As such, this study primarily focused on how the organizational and compositional dimensions influence civic engagement.
DEFINING THE INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT OF eHSIs
Not only do HSIs, and, subsequently eHSIs, provide diverse students access to postsecondary education, but they also contribute to the institutional diversity of higher education. In developing this study, we sought to understand the specific contexts of eHSIs as a way to scrutinize how the curricular and cocurricular dimensions of the campus influence civic engagement for students. Specifically, we looked at six eHSIs located on the U.S. mainland. Although we recognize that a sample size of six institutions is limiting, we considered the institutions as unique cases to be explored, particularly given that eHSIs are a newer organizational form within higher education. Here we describe the contexts of these six eHSIs as a way to compare and contrast them with what we already know about HSIs. By detailing their contexts, we can better situate these institutions within the larger population of postsecondary institutions in order to determine how they are unique.
In choosing the institutions for this study, we used Núñez, Crisp, and Elizondos (2016) typology of HSI institutional diversity and the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to guide our selection. In searching for a way to make sense of the diversity of HSIs and to develop a schematic approach that researchers can use to more accurately study HSIs, Núñez and colleagues (2016) constructed a typology that incorporates five forms of institutional diversity: systemic, constituential, programmatic, resource, and environmental. In doing so, they proposed six distinct clusters of HSIs: Urban Enclave Community Colleges, Rural Dispersed Community Colleges, Big Systems Four-Years, Small Communities Four-Years, Puerto Rican Institutions, and Health Science Schools. Although eHSIs were not included in Núñez and colleagues sample, the typology can be used to classify eHSIs because they are diverse along similar institutional dimensions as HSIs.
For this study, we focused on eHSIs that would fit into the cluster of Big Systems Four-Years. These institutions represent 21% of all HSIs, have large undergraduate enrollments, are part of public institutional systems, and are overrepresented in urban cities (Núñez et al., 2016). This cluster, however, is made up of institutions that primarily offer bachelors degrees and are typically classified as broad-access institutions with high admission rates (Núñez et al., 2016). Like institutions in the cluster of Big Systems Four-Years, the six institutions in our sample have similar systemic (i.e., type, control, size) diversity given that they are all public, four-year institutions with large undergraduate enrollments ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 students. Our sample diverged from the Big Systems Four-Years cluster, however, in their Carnegie classification as research universities. Three of the institutions have high research activity, and three have very high research activity. They are also selective institutions based on the average SAT scores of entering first-year students ranging from 1000 to 1300.
The six institutions have similar constituential (i.e., students, faculty, and other personnel) diversity. In fall 2010, all six had between 16% and 23% Latina/o undergraduate enrollment, and far fewer Latina/o faculty (4%9%). The percentage of students receiving Pell Grants varied more across institutions, ranging from 25% to 50%. Other constituential variables are outlined in Table 1. One characteristic worth noting is the graduation rates of the six institutions. In spring 2011, three of the institutions had over 70% graduation rates for all students as well as for Latina/o students, with anywhere between 1% and 7% gaps in the graduation rates for Latina/o students. The graduation rates at the other three institutions were between 35% and 55% in spring 2011 for all students and between 35% and 50% for Latina/o students, with gaps ranging from 1% to 8%. Perhaps not surprising, a stronger performance on graduation rates aligns with more research activity among these eHSIs.
Table 1. Select Institutional Characteristics of Six eHSIs (Academic Year 201011)
Table 1 also includes information about the resource diversity at the six institutions for the 20102011 academic year. The largest range was in instructional expenditures, with two institutions spending over $20,000 per fulltime equivalent (FTE) student, whereas the others ranged between $6,000 and $10,000 per FTE. The range was much smaller for academic support expenses and student support expenses. One institution received over $10,000 per FTE in state appropriations, whereas the other five ranged between $5,000 and $9,000. The tuition and revenue per FTE ranged between $6,000 and $12,000. These figures largely align with the fact that these institutions are all state-funded, public institutions.
Environmental diversity, as labeled by Núñez et al. (2016), primarily comprises geographic elements. Four of the institutions are located in the far western region of the United States, one is in the southwestern region, and one is in the midwestern region. Three institutions are located in the same state and the other three are in different states; all have a growing amount of racial diversity, which is contributing to the emersion of multiple HSIs in these states. Three of the institutions are located in large urban cities with over two million residents, whereas the other three are in suburban communities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000.
Programmatic diversity includes the programs and degrees offered by the institution (Núñez et al., 2016). We used research on the types of culturally relevant programs that have historically served Latina/o students, including Chicana/o studies and Educational Opportunity Programs (EOPs), to determine what type of programmatic diversity to examine (Garcia & Okhidoi, 2015). Two of the institutions have Chicana/o studies departments, one has a Latino studies department, one has a Latino studies program that offers a bachelors and a masters degree, and two have programs that offer a minor in Latino studies. All six institutions have multiple outreach programs with the goal of increasing the pipeline to college for underrepresented groups, ranging from student led to grant funded (i.e., Gear Up, TRiO Upward Bound). Four institutions have EOPs, although the size and extent of services range tremendously. The two that do not have EOPs offer other academic support programs. We also considered Latina/o student organizations as important sources of social support for students (Montelongo et al., 2014). Three of the institutions have a high volume of Latina/o student organizations (21 or more), one has medium volume (1120), and two have low volume (010).
Collectively, the profile of the eHSIs in our sample demonstrates that they represent a distinct institutional form, similar in many ways to HSIs (constituential, environmental, and programmatic diversity) but diverging in important ways as well (Carnegie classification, expenditures, graduation rates). This underscores the importance of exploring these unique institutions and their impact on diverse students outcomes.
Our study examined how curricular and cocurricular activities at eHSIs contribute to students civic engagement. We used a cross-sectional research design, measuring the civic engagement of students enrolled at six eHSIs at one time point. Secondary data for this study came from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) housed at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA. The DLE is one of CIRPs newest surveys, piloted in spring 2010, that focuses on the experiences of diverse students and their perceptions of the climate and institutional practices for diversity (HERI, 2015). The survey targets second- and third-year undergraduates because these students have spent substantial time at an institution and may offer distinct insights on the campus climate; however, institutions can administer the survey to any students they choose. The survey is web based and administered annually. We merged two data sets, the 2010 and 2011 DLE, to ensure an adequate sample size of students within eHSIs for appropriate statistical procedures that would allow for relevant conclusions about the context. We also merged institutional characteristics for 20102011 from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), such as size, Carnegie classification, and student demographics, to ensure comparability of eHSIs in our sample. Last, we collected diversity-related curricula (service learning) and cocurricular programmatic information (number of Latina/o student organizations) from each institutions website and merged these into the data set.
The student sample was 10,022 after removing cases that were missing values on the dependent variable. Women comprised 61% of the sample, 18% were first-generation college students, and 7% identified as noncitizens. The racial composition of the sample was diverse across all racial groups, including Latina/o (18%), Black (4%), Asian/Pacific Islander (38%), American Indian (4%), and White (51%). Most respondents were enrolled full time (95%) and represented each class year as follows: first (16%), second (22%), third (31%), fourth (27%), and fifth or beyond (4%).
The dependent variable was civic engagement, a factor created and validated through confirmatory factor analysis (Hurtado & Guillermo-Wann, 2013), which measured the extent to which students were involved in various social and political actions. The civic engagement factor comprised the following items: (a) contacted public officials, print or broadcast media (e.g., petitions, letters, etc.), (b) participated in a political demonstration (e.g., boycott, rally, protests, etc.), (c) discussed politics, (d) participated in fund-raising for a charity or campaign, (e) voted in a national, state, or local election, and (f) engaged in community service. Students rated these items based on how frequently, from never to very often, they had participated in these activities since attending their institution (see Appendix A for factor reliability and corresponding item loadings). It is critical to note that the strongest loading items on this measure are associated with political action, consistent with our conceptualization of civic engagement.
Independent variables (see Appendix B for variable list and coding) were selected based on background literature and guided by the MMDLE in order to account for student and institutional characteristics associated with civic engagement. Several demographic characteristics were included to control for differences between students, including sex, income, first-generation status, citizenship status, race, class standing, and college GPA. With regard to institutional variables, we included the percent of undergraduate students of color because eHSIs represent more heterogeneous student racial compositions (Excelencia in Education, 2016b). In addition, we included the percent of Pell Grant recipients within an institution as an indicator of serving low-income students, which is an eligibility criterion for HSI designation. Because we were interested in the organizational dimensions of these institutions, we also included a dummy-coded variable on the availability of service learning programs, which are likely to promote engagement with local communities. An institutional variable accounted for the low, medium, or high level of Latina/o student organization representation within an institution, which may foster more civic engagement among students of color, and particularly Latinas/os.
Several variables were added to account for students experiences in the curricular and cocurricular domains of the institution as well as students critical consciousness. For curricular variables, we included participation in academic programs intended to support student success such as faculty/mentor programs, academic support services for low-income students, and learning communities. We also included curricular measures that captured the extent to which students were exposed to diverse perspectives, such as whether a student had taken ethnic studies courses. Furthermore, we included two factors. The curriculum of inclusion factor measured the number of courses a student took that incorporated perspectives on diversity and equity, which included items such as the inclusion of material/readings on race and ethnicity and on issues of oppression as a system of power and dominance (Hurtado & Guillermo-Wann, 2013). The other factor, academic validation in the classroom, captured the extent to which students felt faculty encouraged their success in the classroom, including measures such as how often faculty provided students with feedback to gauge their progress and how students contributions were valued (Hurtado & Guillermo-Wann, 2013).
For cocurricular participation and critical consciousness, we included a number of single-item variables that measured student involvement in activities such as ethnic student organizations, political organizations, leadership training, and Greek organizations. We also included an additional factor, campus-facilitated diversity activities, which measured the extent to which students participated in diversity-related activities such as ongoing campus-organized discussions on racial/ethnic issues (e.g., intergroup dialogue) and events sponsored by campus cultural centers. Finally, we added two factors that assessed how critical students were in their perceptions of their institutions commitment to diversity and their own level of critical consciousness. The institutional commitment to diversity factor included items such as how much students agreed that campus administrators regularly spoke about the value of diversity and the extent to which the institution appreciated differences in sexual orientation (Hurtado & Guillermo-Wann, 2013). The critical consciousness and action factor captured how reflective students were about their own biases, how actively they challenged their own positions on issues, and how much they challenged others on issues of discrimination (Hurtado & Guillermo-Wann, 2013).
To prepare the data for analysis, we removed cases that were missing all or most variables to minimize the unit nonresponse rate (Allison, 2002). We then conducted a missing values analysis to determine the percentage of missing variables and to test whether variables were missing completely at random (Allison, 2002). Because data were not completely missing at random and all variables were missing less than 5%, we replaced the missing information for independent variables using the expectation maximization algorithm to improve parameter estimates (Allison, 2002), with the exception of background characteristics.
We ran descriptive analyses and t tests on the sample to compare institutional characteristics of eHSIs with high research activity to those with very high levels of research activity. Furthermore, we compared the characteristics of students at eHSIs with high research activity to those at eHSIs with very high levels of research activity, looking to identify any potential differences that could influence outcomes, as evidenced in differing graduation rates by these subsamples. We then ran ordinary least squares regression, which is appropriate for determining the linear relationship between independent and dependent variables in which the dependent variable is continuous (Dey & Astin, 1993). We entered the independent variables in a temporal order (background characteristics, institutional characteristics, curricular experiences and cocurricular experiences/critical perspectives) in a stepwise fashion on the full sample. We checked for basic assumptions for regression analyses, including normality in the data, homoscedasticity in the residuals, and multicollinearity between variables, before making any conclusions (Allison, 1989). Furthermore, we reviewed variance inflation factors (VIF) to ensure that there were no concerns with multicollinearity. All variable VIF indicators were below two and met the general threshold rule (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995).
There are several limitations to this study related to the data and analysis. First, the data are cross-sectional, which limits the interpretation on the relationship between variables as interrelated and not causal. In addition, the data are secondary; therefore, some measures are somewhat limited in tapping into constructs for minoritized students. Although the DLE civic engagement measure contains critical elements of political action, additional items addressing dimensions of political and social civic engagement, such as community organizing or working with English language learners, can more extensively capture civic engagement within communities of color (Alcantar, 2014). Similarly, the critical consciousness and action factor contained items that may not comprehensively measure this concept. Furthermore, although HERI collects information from hundreds of colleges and universities, only a few institutions have administered the DLE, and even fewer fit the definition of eHSIs. With a larger sample of eHSIs, more advanced methods could have been employed, such as hierarchical linear modeling, and more variability among institutional characteristics could have been observed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how civic engagement is shaped by these institutions. We were unable to include interactions between key variables because too many combinations would have decreased the degrees of freedom within the smaller sample of eHSIs. Moreover, the smaller sample size may be the reason for the small effect sizes seen in the results. Despite these limitations, our study significantly contributes to understanding civic engagement outcomes within an understudied institutional context that is growing in representation.
In using the MMDLE to conceptualize this study, we sought to extend current research on civic engagement by hypothesizing that the compositional diversity of institutions such as eHSIs uniquely shapes the organizational elements, which ultimately shapes student outcomes. As more Latinas/os and other diverse students enroll in these institutions, the compositional dimension perceptibly changes. As such, the organizational dimensions, including the curricular and cocurricular structures, should change in order to enhance civic engagement. The results of our analysis partially confirm this hypothesis.
Before examining the curricular and cocurricular effects of civic engagement at eHSIs, we examined the differences between students at eHSIs with high research activity and those at eHSIs with very high levels of research activity. Descriptive results, shown in Table 2, indicated that there were some differences between students at eHSIs according to research intensity. Students attending eHSIs with very high research activity reported higher levels of income, represented more Asian/Pacific Islanders, and engaged in more college activities like participating in academic support services, joining a fraternity or sorority, and joining a racial/ethnic organization reflecting their background. By contrast, students attending eHSIs with high research activity represented a more diverse student population with more female, American Indian, and Black students. At the institutional level, eHSIs with high research activity also had a higher percentage of students of color, whereas those eHSIs with very high research activity had more Latina/o student organizations represented on campus. These student- and institutional-level differences are worth noting because they influence the results of the multivariate analysis.
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Independent Variables by eHSI Research Activity
Table 3 shows the final multivariate regression results for the full sample model, which explains a significant amount of variance in the dependent variable (R2 = .571). Several demographic characteristics influenced civic engagement at eHSIs, although these were small effects. Class standing (β = .076), college GPA (β = .024), and income (β = .021) were positive predictors, suggesting that being an advanced student, a student with a higher GPA, or a wealthier student is highly correlated with civic engagement at eHSIs. It is important to note that a higher income bracket was originally correlated with lower levels of civic engagement; however, in the final model, students cocurricular experiences with diversity mediated this relationship simply because income was not a strong predictor in the model. Other demographics, such as race and citizenship status, were negative predictors of civic engagement after controlling for institutional characteristics and student experiences. Being Asian/Pacific Islander (β = -.057), Black (β = -.023), Latina/o (β = -.036), or a noncitizen (β = -.049) were negative predictors, meaning that those who self-identify in these groups are less likely to be civically engaged.
Table 3. Regression Results for Civic Engagement at eHSIs (n = 9,311)
At the institutional level, a higher level of research activity (β = -.048) and a higher percentage of low-income students (β = -.045) and students of color (β = -.061) were negative predictors of civic engagement, whereas having more Latina/o student organizations (β =.049) on campus was positively related to higher civic engagement levels. It is important to note that the student-level demographics in the model are correlated with the institutional-level variables. As such, relationships between the student-level predictor variables and the dependent variable sometimes reversed as the institutional variables were added. For example, while the correlation for Black and Latina/o students and civic engagement was originally positive, the coefficient changed to a negative in the final regression model as a result of the percentage of undergraduate students of color as well as percentage of Pell Grant recipients being added to the model. Percentage of undergraduate students of color was positively associated with Latina/o and Black students and negatively correlated with income background of students. These relationships suggest a complex relationship between racial and socioeconomic composition of the institution and with student-level civic engagement.
Curricular and cocurricular experiences were also significant predictors of civic engagement for students attending eHSIs. For cocurricular participation and critical consciousness, participating in campus-facilitated diversity activities (β = .565) was the strongest positive significant predictor of civic engagement, followed by critical consciousness and action (β = .176). Joining a social fraternity or sorority, participating in leadership training, or joining a student-run political club were also positive predictors. Curricular variables, including curriculum of inclusion (β =.055) and academic validation in the classroom (β =.039), positively predicted civic engagement, although they had a much smaller effect. Students’ perceptions of institutional commitment to diversity (β = -.031) negatively predicted civic engagement, meaning that students who rated the institution lower on its commitment to diversity had higher levels of civic engagement.
The test of coefficients comparing the unstandardized regression coefficients between the two samples of eHSIs only revealed significant differences (p < .01) for income, the percent of students of color, and density of Latina/o student organizations. Income and a higher representation of Latina/o student organizations were stronger and positive at eHSIs with very high research activity, whereas the percentage of students of color was positive in those with high research activity. Beyond these differences, the tests of coefficients confirmed that other significant variables similarly influenced civic engagement across the two eHSI samples.
In this study, we sought to understand how eHSIs, as unique institutions, contribute to the civic engagement of the diverse students they enroll. Although our model shows a significant relationship between student demographics (i.e., citizenship, race) and civic engagement, as well as student-level involvement (i.e., participating in a social fraternity/sorority, participating in leadership training) and civic action, we focus our discussion on organizational-level characteristics, highlighting the ways that institutions of higher education can be proactive in supporting minoritized students. The model suggests that at the institutional level, having a higher percentage of Pell Grant recipients negatively affects the level of civic engagement for all students, meaning that the more low-income students that eHSIs enroll, the lower students civic engagement will be. This is particularly troubling, considering that HSIs enroll a large percentage of low-income students (de los Santos & Cuamea, 2010; Malcom-Piqueex & Lee, 2011), with eHSIs likely to follow suit. Our civic engagement factor, however, measures what some scholars call a traditional, normative type of civic participation that fails to capture the extent of engagement and civic identity potential for minoritized populations likely to enroll in eHSIs (Alcantar, 2014; Knight, 2011; Rubin, 2007). Verba et al. (1995) argued that a lack of time and money may contribute to lower civic involvement, whereas Stoll (2001) contended that this is due to fewer opportunities for civic participation in lower income communities. González (2008) found similar participation rates in civic activities between Latina/o and White college students at an HSI in Florida even though most of the Latina/o students he interviewed worked part- or full time.
We also found that having a larger concentration of Latina/o student organizations positively influences civic engagement. As argued by Davis (1997), Latina/o student organizations typically espouse values related to political education and advocacy, both on campus and in the community. Furthermore, González (2008) contended that there is a snowball effect, or the general peer effect seen when student leaders encourage others to become involved in student organizations and civic activities. Hurtado and DeAngelo (2012) found a similar effect that the peer environment has on increasing overall civic-minded practices of college students. In our sample, these student organizations include political organizations such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, community service organizations such as Latina/o Greek organizations, as well as academically focused organizations such as SACNAS and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Many of these organizations have long histories of activism and civic engagement on campuses, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s (Montelongo et al., 2014), although we found that the number of Latina/o student organizations varied widely from campus to campus within our sample.
An important contributor to the variance in civic engagement of students at eHSIs included whether students perceived the curricula to be inclusive of topics such as race, gender, and privilege. This may include readings and assignments about these topics as well as the opportunity to dialogue with students about issues of oppression and social justice. Because the dependent variable is largely a reflection of activities that are politically and socially motivated, this finding suggests that students who take classes that are inclusive have an increased desire to become politically and socially engaged. Previous studies have come to similar conclusions about the positive relationship between participation in curricular experiences that have an emphasis on diversity, and civic outcomes (Bowman, 2011; Denson & Bowman, 2013; Hurtado, 2003; Nelson Laird, 2005; Nelson Laird et al., 2005; Zúñiga et al., 2005).
The academic validation factor also contributed positively to the variance in civic engagement of students at eHSIs, meaning that when students perceive that they are valued in the classroom environment, they are more likely to become politically and socially engaged. Academic validation in the classroom may come from students perceptions of how much instructors show concern for their progress and whether instructors encourage students to ask questions and meet with them after class. As argued by Rendón (1994), validation for students of color may be the key link to involvement, meaning that they are less likely to get involved until someone takes active interest in their well-being, either in the classroom or outside of it. This may mean that students at eHSIs will not become involved in civic activities on campus unless they feel academically validated. Research suggests that pedagogy that validates students should affirm them as powerful learners (Rendón, 1994), foster their cultural competence and critical consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 1995b), and help them sustain their cultural and linguistic competence (Paris, 2012).
Having inclusive curricula and validating pedagogy are likely to increase students critical consciousness and action, which also predicted students civic engagement. Much of the literature on inclusive curricula is grounded in Freires (1970) ideas about the liberation of the oppressed through conscientization. Influenced by Freire, Ladson-Billings (1995a) argued that culturally relevant teaching encourages students to critically examine societal norms in order to challenge the institutions and values that maintain inequalities. Delgado Bernal (2011) labeled this mestiza consciousness, suggesting that Chicana/o students develop transformational resistance through exposure to inclusive pedagogies. Within a classroom setting, Latina/o students must be able to dialogue about their own existence, which ultimately increases their critical thinking, consciousness, and desire for civic action (Rodriguez, 2012). Beyond the classroom, Gildersleeve (2011) found that Mexican migrant college students developed critical consciousness by participating in civic activities that validated their cultural experiences and allowed them to challenge dominant power structures. This study further confirms the inherent connections between inclusive curricula, academic validation, and critical consciousness because each of these factors is a positive predictor of students civic engagement at the eHSIs in the sample.
One of the strongest predictors of students civic engagement was whether students participated in campus-facilitated diversity activities, including programs like intergroup dialogue and those sponsored by cultural centers on campus. This is an important finding considering Bowman (2011) found through meta-analytic procedures that the influence of intergroup dialogue on civic engagement has a smaller effect size than interpersonal interactions. Other studies have found that there is a relationship between campus-facilitated diversity activities and students civic outcomes (Hurtado & DeAngelo, 2012; Hurtado et al., 2008).
A final variable worth noting is that students perceptions of the institutions commitment to diversity was a negative predictor of civic engagement. Although student perceptions may be based on a number of interactions and experiences, the composite variable in our model is quite robust, inclusive of students perceptions of the institutions long-standing commitment to diversity. This perception is related to how students perceive the institution to portray itself in media and brochures, whether the institution promotes an appreciation of cultural and gender difference, whether staff and faculty are rewarded for participating in diversity efforts, and whether administrators speak out about diversity. The interesting thing about this finding is that it suggests that the more students think the institution is committed to diversity, the less civically engaged they are, or the opposite, which is that they are more likely to be engaged civically if they are critical of the institutions commitment in this area. Perhaps when students think the institution is either not committed to diversity or committed to diversity in inauthentic ways, it compels them to get involved in order to implement change in their own ways.
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH
By focusing on civic engagement as an outcome for diverse students attending eHSIs, we empirically studied the connections between diversity and civic participation, which closely aligns with Hurtados (2007) vision for linking postsecondary institutional missions with the goal of a more democratic, pluralistic, and inclusive society. In particular, Hurtado and colleagues (2012) called for an emphasis on competencies for a multicultural world (p. 50), which include civic action and social engagement. While all institutions of higher education should be concerned with graduating citizens who engage in political activity such as voting, political demonstrations, and volunteering in local efforts to elect political leaders, we argue that eHSIs, as compositionally diverse institutions, have a unique opportunity to do so. By engaging in this analysis, we scrutinized the curricular and cocurricular dimensions of the institutions that are essential for increasing the civic engagement of students attending compositionally diverse institutions. Future research should further explore some of the essential findings.
First and foremost, future studies should continue to redefine the concept of civic engagement, particularly for minoritized communities, who will otherwise always appear to be less engaged civically. Although our study suggests that enrolling a higher percentage of low-income students negatively affects the level of civic engagement for all students, we recognize that this could be the result of the type of engagement we are measuring in this study. Although accessing secondary data made it challenging for us to measure different types of civic engagement, there is a need for exploratory, qualitative studies about civic engagement at HSIs and eHSIs. These types of studies are essential to exploring what civic engagement looks like for minoritized students in compositionally diverse environments. Moving beyond exploratory studies, there must also be efforts to develop and validate quantitative measures for alternative forms of civic engagement. Although Alcantar (2014) purports that using the DLE survey is better for this, we found that the civic engagement measures available in the DLE are essentially measuring more traditional forms of political engagement. Our study shows that there is more work to be done to develop culturally relevant quantitative measures of civic engagement.
Another finding worth exploring further is the one about the larger concentration of Latina/o student organizations positively influencing civic engagement. Although Davis (1997) and Montelongo et al. (2014) provided important arguments about the contributions that Latina/o organizations have historically had on the development of Latina/o students, few studies have empirically tested these connections. Some studies show that Latina/o Greek organizations influence outcomes for Latina/o college students (Delgado-Guerrero & Gloria, 2013; Guardia & Evans, 2008), but few have looked specifically at civic engagement. Future research should explore how Latina/o organizations at eHSIs contribute to civic engagement.
In using the MMDLE as a conceptual framework and incorporating constructs from the DLE, we were able to explore the ways in which compositionally diverse environments, such as eHSIs, may uniquely enhance civic engagement for diverse students. This is an important contribution worth exploring further in future studies. For example, although previous studies have found that experiences with diverse curricula enhance civic outcomes (Bowman, 2011; Denson & Bowman, 2013; Nelson Laird, 2005; Nelson Laird et al., 2005; Zúñiga et al., 2005), few have looked specifically at courses that address issues of power and oppression. In using the curriculum of inclusion factor, we incorporated some of those ideas, including whether materials in the course address issues of oppression and privilege. Simply including readings and conversations about diverse individuals may not be enough to get students to civically engage in ways that will disrupt those types of systems. Future research should look more specifically at this and consider creating and/or using similar types of survey items as those included in the curriculum of inclusion factor.
Similarly, the academic validation in the classroom factor was a positive predictor of civic engagement. Although other studies have looked specifically at how interactions between faculty and students contribute to civic outcomes (e.g., Astin et al., 2000; Einfeld & Collins, 2008), fewer have incorporated ideas about validating racially diverse students the way Rendón (1994) originally conceptualized it. Future studies should look more specifically at how minoritized students experience validation in the classroom and whether this affects nonacademic outcomes such as civic engagement. A third factor from the DLE that is worth exploring in future studies is the critical consciousness and action factor, again because it specifically incorporates students perceptions of themselves as conscious (i.e., I recognize the biases of my own thinking) and the ways this consciousness affects civic engagement, which has not been fully explored in higher education research.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
By studying eHSIs before they reach the level necessary to become federally designated as HSIs, this study scrutinized the organizational structures, including the curricular and cocurricular programs and policies, to determine what institutional-level changes need to occur in order to become more Latina/o-serving. We argue that eHSIs should be proactive in enhancing their capacity for serving Latina/o and other minoritized students prior to reaching the 25% enrollment threshold for federal designation as a HSI. Here we call on institutions to think about the ways in which they can be proactive in their approach to enhancing students civic engagement rather than buying into the deficit mindset seen in the literature, which suggests that minoritized students, including students of color, low-income students, and immigrant students, are less likely to be engaged. Here we offer a few suggestions for all institutions experiencing changes in their compositional diversity, based on what we learned about eHSIs.
A critical step toward enhancing the civic engagement of students attending eHSIs is an explicit acknowledgment of the demographics of students enrolling in these institutions and how these demographics affect engagement. Although our model shows that a larger percentage of low-income students may be correlated with less civic engagement, institutions must be conscious of the time constraints placed on students who are required to work while in college as a result of their economic situation. This suggests that students who must work while in school may be more likely to get involved in civic activities if the institution creates opportunities that do not have time or economic constraints. It may also mean that institutions should be intentional about engaging students in activities they are concerned about and/or that directly affect them. Low-income students, for example, may be more interested in engaging in activities that directly affect their low-income neighborhoods and/or concerned with policies that directly connect to their economic well-being, such as increasing the minimum wage level in their state. At the core, serving students at eHSIs depends on institutional changes that consider changing student demographics.
Our results collectively call on institutions progressing toward HSI status to focus on organizational elements, such as curricula, to promote civic engagement. Research shows that currently the curricula at HSIs is not inclusive of ethnocentric ideas and subjects (Cole, 2011) and does not promote civic involvement (González, 2008). To effectively serve their students, HSIs and eHSIs must be intentional about enacting culturally relevant curricula (Garcia & Okhidoi, 2015). Furthermore, faculty need to be involved in campuswide conversations about creating inclusive curricula that foster civic outcomes for students, particularly given that they control the type of subjects, readings, and topics that are covered in class. Institutions that are emerging as HSIs should further think about how to train their faculty to utilize pedagogical techniques that foster validation in the classroom, which will further enhance the likelihood that students will engage in socially responsible and civic activities.
Beyond the classroom, culturally relevant support must exist across the cocurricular experience to holistically meet the needs of diverse students. Our results suggest that eHSIs should support the growth and development of Latina/o student organizations, particularly on those campuses with a lower concentration of these types of organizations. This may mean that eHSIs should invest in hiring staff members who focus on the development of student organizations that have a Latina/o and/or multicultural focus. Furthermore, three of the campuses in our sample do not even have Latina/o cultural centers, which may be problematic for eHSIs because the results suggest that the diversity-related programs typically sponsored and developed by cultural centers can in fact enhance civic outcomes. By establishing such cultural centers at eHSIs, there is an authentic commitment to diversity expressed that may foster student engagement in activities that promote democracy and social justice. Thus, institutions emerging as HSIs should be more intentional about planning, developing, and implementing diversity-related activities beyond the classroom to increase the civic engagement of their students and to enhance nonacademic outcomes.
The focus on eHSIs contributes significantly to the literature given that very little is documented on the unique organizational characteristics of these compositionally diverse institutions and how they affect student outcomes. While we (Cuellar, 2014, 2015; Garcia et al., 2016) have explored student-level experiences at eHSIs, this study extends that analysis, focusing more specifically on how institutional structures shape student outcomes. By using the MMDLE as a conceptual model, this study scrutinizes multiple organizational dimensions to develop a more nuanced understanding of how curricular and cocurricular programs affect civic engagement at compositionally diverse institutions. The findings suggest that both engagement in the classroom and involvement in cocurricular activities are essential to increasing students civic outcomes. Rather than waiting to reach the 25% enrollment threshold to become an HSI, institutions that are emerging to HSI status should be proactive in thinking about both academic and nonacademic outcomes for their students and the ways in which they can contribute to them.
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Factor Reliability and Item Loadings
List of Variables and Scales