Swenson, Brian G. “College Student Engagement: Removing the Costs of Full Participation for Low-Income Students”, PhD, Boston College, 2017. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107297.
College student engagement has been linked to a host of positive educational outcomes including academic performance and persistence. Problematically, many low-income college students are not able to get involved within the social system of higher education due to the costs associated with participation in the co-curricular events and activities that comprise so much of the full college experience. This mixed methods study explored the effect on student engagement of the Pinnacle Alliance (PA) - an intervention program designed to remove these cost barriers for low-income students at Lakefield University (LU), a private, highly selective, religiously-affiliated institution located in the Northeast United States. An electronic survey was administered to a sample of Lakefield undergraduate students concerning their involvement in co-curricular activities. Multiple regression analysis was conducted to examine the relationship between participation in the Pinnacle Alliance and student engagement. While the quantitative findings indicate a non-significant relationship, subsequent focus groups were conducted to further examine and contextualize the effects of the Pinnacle Alliance on low-income students. Qualitative findings from the focus group suggest that the Pinnacle Alliance is an extremely important resource for many low-income LU students. The PA allowed these students to make participation choices free of the financial barriers they often face. In addition, PA-participating students reported feeling a greater sense of community and that they fit in more at LU. However, these students made clear that fitting in and belonging were not the reasons they chose to participate in the program; rather the elevated feelings of fitting in and belonging were the result of their participation. Finally, findings from focus groups conducted with students who were eligible for the Pinnacle Alliance but chose not to participate revealed that beyond financial constraints, motivational constraints can also inhibit engagement. Non-participating students cited lack of time, lack of interest, lack of awareness, and social stigma as the four major reasons behind their decisions to not be more involved with the Pinnacle Alliance.