It is well established that participation in co-curricular experiences in college has significant impact on student outcomes, but less is known about impact of the intensity and the types of participation. We developed a survey based on the theories of Astin and Weidman to investigate the different influences affecting student outcomes. In this paper, we identify the patterns of participation in co-curricular activities, such as the types of organizations, number of organizations joined, and the frequency of participation. We show how they are related to particular social (bridging social capital, and bonding social capital), academic (major satisfaction), and professional outcomes (engineering identity).
4,022 third and fourth year undergraduate engineering students at a large public Midwestern R1 university received the survey, and 998 responded. The survey asked several questions regarding student pre-college and on campus experiences, and resulting outcomes. Students were asked whether they participated in engineering-related co-curricular activities, which ones, and how often. Post hoc analysis of the responses revealed that the organizations could be classified into four types: competition and design teams (N= 388), professional societies (N=279), identity-based (N=166), and college-run organizations (N=116).
We used Agglomerative Clustering Analysis to examine patterns of participation, and found five different levels based on the number of joined organizations and intensity of participation: non-participants do not participate in any organizations; occasional participants belong to one or two organizations and are slightly active; regular participants also belong to one or two organizations and attend most activities; selective participants belong to one or two organizations and are leaders in the organization; and super participants are involve in two to five organizations and are highly active and/or leaders in one or two. We also examined which types of organizations are most common for each of these patterns of participation. All of the patterns show that competition and design teams are the organizations in which students are most likely to participate, but super participants also tend to participate in professional societies. Participants in identity-based organizations tend to fall into one of two patterns, occasional or super participant, while participants in professional societies are more likely to be selective participants.
T-tests between the 5 cluster types and 4 outcomes show that nonparticipants always have the lowest outcomes, and that outcomes increase with increasing frequency of participation. These results suggest that even occasional participants see gains in outcomes, but the largest is for bonding social capital. This may be because even irregular contact can lead to the formation of friendships within the organization. We see no statistically significant differences between the regular, super, and selective groups for any of the outcomes, suggesting that the highly active or officer level involvement isn’t required to see significant gains in outcomes compared to more moderate (regular, non-officer). This is good new for students, because it shows that they don’t need to be either super or selective participants in order to get the highest outcomes, at least for the ones we study here.
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