Group Involvement Experiences in College: Identifying a Thematic Taxonomy
Dugan, John Patrick
Komives, Susan R
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The purpose of this study was to explore whether latent phenomena could be identified to assist in the classification of students into subgroups based on their patterns of involvement across 21 types of co-curricular group experiences (e.g., cultural groups, student governance, club sports). Further analysis attempted to establish whether the emergent taxonomy of subgroups truly discriminated among students. This was accomplished through the use of data from the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership, a national research program examining the influences of higher education on college student leadership development. The sample was comprised of 11,209 seniors from 50 institutions across the United States. The primary research question employed exploratory latent class analysis as a means to determine the number of latent factors underlying student patterns of involvement. A total of four latent factors were identified and students were classified into one of eight latent classes interpreted to reflect: Affinity Group Affiliates, Identity and Expression Leaders, Academic Careerists, Cultural Collegiates, Athletes, Social Recreators, Recreational Academics, and Social Collegiates. Findings from secondary research questions contributed to the validity of the taxonomy by demonstrating differential influences of latent class membership on a theoretically-derived measure of leadership. Significant relationships were also identified between latent classes and the demographic variables of race and gender. Results suggested a more complex composition of the category of collegiate identified in numerous taxonomies of college students (Astin, 1993a; Clark & Trow, 1966; Kuh, Hu & Vesper, 2000). Findings also served as a response to the numerous calls for research examining patterns of student involvement in co-curricular group experiences (Gellin, 2003; Foubert & Grainger, 2006; Hernandez, Hogan, Hathaway, & Lovell, 1999; Hoffman, 2002; Moore, Lovell, McGann, & Wyrick, 1998; Renn & Bilodeau, 2005a). Results have implications for both higher education research and professional practice. This includes the provision of new analytic and conceptual approaches for studying college student populations as well as college impact. Findings may also serve as a useful heuristic tool to assist student affairs professionals in their advising and mentoring of college students.