Research ArticlePSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE

A customized belonging intervention improves retention of socially disadvantaged students at a broad-access university

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Science Advances  15 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 29, eaba4677
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba4677

Abstract

Broad-access institutions play a democratizing role in American society, opening doors to many who might not otherwise pursue college. Yet these institutions struggle with persistence and completion. Do feelings of nonbelonging play a role, particularly for students from groups historically disadvantaged in higher education? Is belonging relevant to students’ persistence—even when they form the numerical majority, as at many broad-access institutions? We evaluated a randomized intervention aimed at bolstering first-year students’ sense of belonging at a broad-access university (N = 1,063). The intervention increased the likelihood that racial-ethnic minority and first-generation students maintained continuous enrollment over the next two academic years relative to multiple control groups. This two-year gain in persistence was mediated by greater feelings of social and academic fit one-year post-intervention. Results suggest that efforts to address belonging concerns at broad-access, majority-minority institutions can improve core academic outcomes for historically disadvantaged students at institutions designed to increase college accessibility.

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