African American student involvement in campus affinity organizations: An exploratory study of impact
There are significant gaps in college completion rates between White students and minority students in higher education today, and the retention rates of African American students are the most troubling. According to the US Department of Education, African American students graduate at lower rates than White, Hispanic or Asian students (Horn, 2006). Further, African American students attending predominantly white institutions are at a greater risk of not completing college than other students (Horn, 2006; Knapp, Kelly-Reid & Whitmore 2006). Therefore, understanding the influences on retention of African American students is vital to increasing their completion rates. Student Involvement theory (Astin, 1985) acknowledges the generally positive role that involvement plays in the life of a student, affecting satisfaction, academic gains, adjustment to college life and retention. The research described in this study shows that students change because of their involvement and that engagement in campus student organizations, in particular, has a positive impact on students. This study responded to the need to expand the analysis of student engagement beyond looking at heterogeneous populations of college students. A detailed investigation of African American student involvement in on-campus extra-curricular organizations at a predominantly white institution was conducted in order to explore how these students were impacted by their engagement in race-based, ethnic-centered, affinity student organizations. A survey instrument was developed to capture basic demographic information; information about students' involvement in on-campus extra-curricular activities; students' opinions of student organizations in general and, specifically, regarding affinity organizations; the extent of students' culturally homogeneous or multicultural social involvement; and information about students' sense of belonging to campus. Data were collected from 66 respondents, African American undergraduates enrolled at a private doctoral, urban, east coast predominately white institution in the spring of 2007. Findings revealed that even though respondents had strong positive feelings about the benefits of affinity organizations, they were less involved in, and had less reliance on, affinity organizations as compared to overall involvement in on-campus student organizations. Recommendations are offered to help direct student and administrative support toward those activities that help to improve the experiences, satisfaction and retention rates of African American college students attending predominately white institutions.